The Machine is the Gory Action-Comedy of the Decade

The Machine is the Gory Action-Comedy of the Decade HORROR MOVIE REVIEW .jpg

If you’re someone like me who loves Oldboy and The Hangover with equal fervour, you’ll have a whale of a time at Kreischer’s dynamic big screen debut.

Bob Freville

The Machine is the Gory Action-Comedy of the Decade

Do you remember what a revelation Shaun of the Dead was when it first came out? Remember the palpable energy that writer-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright brought to the first and last significant zombie comedy? The new viral-video-cum-biopic-cum-actioner The Machine pulses with that same undeniable verve.

The Machine is directed by Peter Atencio, a TV veteran best known for his work on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele and the Key and Peele action-comedy Keanu. As he did with the latter, Atencio treats The Machine like a straight action movie. Only this time he ups the ante extensively thanks to an absolute slam dunk script by Scotty Landes (TV’s Workaholics and Blumhouse’s Ma) and Cougar Town alum Kevin Biegel.

Then there’s the slick cinematography of Eigil Bryld (The Equalizer, Nobody) which needs to be singled out here. Atencio and Bryld shoot late-90s flashbacks like Blow as directed by Harmony Korine, with the pixelation of long-lost consumer video, which juxtaposes brilliantly with the matte black finish of its modern-day Russian brawls. 


Together, the creative team behind The Machine translate standup comedian Bert Kreischer’s amazing true story into one of the funniest and sweetest batshit blockbuster action films in American (or Russian) history. To be clear, this is not your typical comedy with a smattering of action. Rather, it’s a balls-to-the-wall full-on bananas action extravaganza that also happens to be really fucking funny.

The plot is familiar to almost everyone at this point since the basis for its story, a 12-minute anecdote posted to the titular comedian’s social media accounts, raked in more than 90 million views back in 2016. For those unfamiliar, Bert Kreischer got involved with the Russian mob during a college trip to Russia. When he was twenty-two years-old, he robbed a train and lived to tell about it.

The Machine imagines what could have happened if his robbery turned an honest working-class train passenger into a hardened criminal hell-bent on recovering his purloined pocket watch. 

As crazy as the story sounds, the film is that much crazier, throwing wild curveballs at us like it’s a minor league baseball pitcher with something to prove. Seriously, my wife can attest to my excited exclamations of, “Holy fuck!” and “Ho shit!” throughout our screening of the flick. 

Suffice to say, horror fans should appreciate The Machine‘s many maniacal action sequences, which include a second act scuffle in a cramped train car that manages to make the final WTF fight scene from Takashi Miike’s Ichii the Killer look borderline plausible by comparison.

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The scene in question involves a thick-necked thug played by retired MMA fighter and resident silver screen heavy Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill, Predators), a hairy forearm, and a decapitation that would feel right at home in an early Brian Yuzna film. It’s shocking, laugh-until-you-piss funny, and totally bugfuck.

The opening moments of The Machine bring the audience up to speed on the sudden popularity of comedian-podcaster Burt “The Machine” Kreischer and his subsequent fall from his version of grace as a result of drunken antics. Despite some contradictory visual messaging, the flick does a good job of demonstrating how cringeworthy a hard-partying lifestyle looks in your forties (Kreischer turned fifty during post-production).

After Kreischer gets busted for drunk driving with his unlicensed daughter behind the wheel, the comedian ends up in talk therapy and loses the trust and respect of his teenage offspring. When he ignores her pleas for a low-key sweet sixteen celebration, opting instead to invite a mess of people and make the birthday bash all about himself, she storms off with her friends, leaving her dad to begrudgingly catch up with his own estranged father (fan favourite Mark Hamill).

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Just when Burt is on the verge of a total meltdown, a deadly Russian woman shows up brandishing a gold-plated handgun and demands that “The Machine” accompany her to Russia to track down the pocket watch he took from her father on his fateful train trip to St. Petersburg.

When Burt’s father insists on coming with him, the femme fatale agrees, saying his presence might prove persuasive before clarifying that she will have him tortured if Burt fails to lead her to the elusive pocket watch. This line is played for laughs, but it also does an effective job of establishing the stakes. And man if this flick doesn’t have more stakes than a Texas Roadhouse. 

Despite its origins in comedy, The Machine does a consummate job of reminding you that it is an action film first and a comedy second. That distinction owes to the team behind the camera who dress a story about the importance of family up in black leather, Baltika No. 3, and bullets.

For a fast-paced action-comedy that clocks in at just under two hours, The Machine manages to cram in a lot of character development, backstory, and emotional growth, while making time for at least one bloody blowout that would fit neatly within the confines of a Tex Avery toon. You’ve gotta see the bare-chested and bearish Burt Kreischer down vodka like Popeye’s spinach and light a cigar with the muzzle flash of an assault rifle to fully appreciate the tightrope this film walks between gritty Russian action film, father-son buddy comedy, and flat-out live-action cartoon.

To its credit, the flick never falters despite switching tones throughout. At every step of this baroque and bloody tale, we are fully invested in the adventure and everyone involved manages to make their admittedly far-fetched character arcs feel authentic and believable. Much of the credit should go to Croatian actress Iva Babić who brings so much ferocity, mania and pathos to her portrayal of Russian gangster Irina that we fully buy her merciful and funny sides when they gradually reveal themselves.

Hamill also sinks his teeth into his role as Burt’s dad, a nutty Floridian carpet store owner whose emotionally distant attitude towards his son has driven a wedge between Albert Kreischer II and Albert Kreischer III. 

After a scene in a Russian drug den, you’ll never see Luke Skywalker or Dolly Parton the same way again. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a touching nod to the ancient Dagobah stowaway and Jedi sage, Yoda, in Burt, Senior’s manner of sitting on a comfy couch.

There is a lot to unpack in this movie, from fraught father-son relationships and the importance of keeping promises to the value of seeing life through another person’s eyes, but before you start thinking this is something maudlin or Oscar bait-y, I’ll remind you that The Machine is, first and foremost, a raunchy action blast replete with oversize red, white and blue subtitles that frequently flit from Russian characters to the American alphabet as one scene swish pans into another, and bad dudes take mad bullets in their terribly tatted domes.

If you’re someone like me who loves Oldboy and The Hangover with equal fervour, you’ll have a whale of a time at Kreischer’s dynamic big screen debut.

The Machine is now playing in select theatres. Go see this larger than life flick where it deserves to be seen.

Bob Freville is a writer, producer and director from New York. His LoFi vampire film Hemo was released by Troma. His X-rated bikersploitation novella The Filthy Marauders is available from The Evil Cookie Publishing. He is the writer-producer of the forthcoming Norwegian drug comedy The Scavengers of Stavanger. Look inside his head: @bobfreville

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