Review of "small engine repair": mechanics and men

What happens in Manch-Vegas stays in Manch-Vegas. Just ask the men of “Small Engine Repair,” an adaptation of the play of the same name...


What happens in Manch-Vegas stays in Manch-Vegas. Just ask the men of “Small Engine Repair,” an adaptation of the play of the same name by actor and playwright John Pollono. The film, which Pollono also directs, offers more depth than the original but still flounders in the translation from the scene to the screen.

Frank (Pollono) reunites his longtime friends Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and Packie (Shea Whigham), from middle-aged Manchester, New Hampshire, who fell out over a fight. When a brotherhood boy named Chad (Spencer House) joins in on what appears to be a normal bro-ing night, the darker intentions behind the gathering are revealed.

Pollono’s film has the same grain as the play, which premiered Off Broadway in 2013. Pollono, Bernthal and Whigham deliver ace performances that humanize these childish man-children without forgiving them. The dialogue is brutal: rude, racist, homophobic, misogynist. This is the show of testosterone. Although the play examined the relationship of men with women, it lacked female characters; the film thankfully corrects that, featuring Frank Karen’s ex (Jordana Spiro) and daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo).

The film consciously dampens the content of the play, converting anecdotal moments of dialogue into flashbacks. These additions criticize the characters more explicitly for a 2021 audience with a greater sensitivity to portrayals of toxic men, but they are largely distracting, underscoring how uncomfortable the film sits between the play’s contained world. and the larger world that adaptation attempts to construct. Ultimately, the story still feels unfinished, and Pollono’s direction falters in the film’s big twist, when he tries to balance horror and humor before its orderly resolution.

Small engine repair
Rated R for gutter garbage. Duration: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters.

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