Anyone familiar with Youtube around 2016 will be remember a stand-up comedy bit that was shared everywhere. The bit, coming from comedian Bert Kreischer in his special The Machine, was Kreischer’s true story of how he inadvertently got involved with the Russian Mafia and helped rob a train back in 1999 on a college trip. The story was one of those “so crazy you need to tell your friends” types that went viral extremely fast and spread everywhere. Now in 2023, Kreischer, typically appearing shirtless, has become an even bigger deal in the world of stand-up comedy, due to his popular podcast “2 Bears 1 Cave” with fellow comedian Tom Segura, his frequent appearances on “The Joe Rogan Experience” and of course, his sincere, party-guy persona. In his first big-screen appearance, Kreischer stars as himself, while also taking the events of the popular “Machine” story and using it as the groundwork for an action comedy that’s at its funniest when it embraces its most outrageous side.
In this fictionalized version, the Russian Mafia has finally caught up to Bert after his breakthrough stand-up special. Irina (Iva Babic), the daughter of a powerful Russian mobster, kidnaps Bert and his father, played by Mark Hamill, and takes them to Russia so that Bert can find the prized pocket watch he stole from Irina’s father on the infamous train robbery. Directed by Keanu helmer Peter Atencio, The Machine is the kind of comedy not typically seen in cinemas anymore. Starring a comedian with no prior film experience, although Kreischer was an occasional host on the Travel Channel, playing a version of himself, while still being loosely adapted by a true story. Imagine The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent without the level of stardom of Nicolas Cage.
The Machine isn’t a substantive movie, but one that goes out of its way to deliver a fun ride for its intended audience. This is largely a film for Kreischer fans as there are plenty of details and easter eggs only devout followers of Kreischer’s podcasts and stand-up will notice. For Kreischer’s first big-screen appearance, he’s an enjoyable lead and holds himself well in the many outrageous scenarios opposite Mark Hamill. Hamill is a blast, clearly revelling in the more crass material of his career. While Kreischer has some solid moments of physical comedy, a sign he can be a sturdy comedy star with better projects, Hamill earns most of the biggest belly laughs. From his not-so-subtle disapproval of his on-screen son, to later getting high on speed and snorting cocaine.
It’s the films wacky second half, with gore gags such as Bert getting his hand stuck in a man’s open throat and an accidental triple kill, that has the films best, most cleverly conceived sequences. Being a tried-and-true action comedy, Atencio’s film is bloody and surprisingly dynamic on a visual level. Shot by cinematographer Eigil Bryld (In Bruges), this is a good looking film with the colorful flair of a pulpy late 2000’s graphic novel adaptation and slick action scenes that have genuine stunt work with fight choreography from Roger Yuan (Dune). Like Bert’s arc of having to balance Bert the Machine and Bert the Family Man, the film tonally struggles, particularly in the first hour. One scene will go from the tone of an early Happy Madison film, to melodramatic family drama, to outlandish violence with little sense of tonal control. Atencio, and editor Eleanor Infante (Late Night) do have fun with the flashback structure with cheeky, almost Saw-like scene transitions. Jimmy Tatro (22 Jump Street) plays young Bert in the flashbacks and somehow manages to give depth to the portrayal of Bert’s notorious Russian trip.
The Machine is the kind of action comedy that doesn’t come around often anymore. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to your sense of humor, but the Bert Kreischer comedy is a slick and visually engaging action comedy. It’s a loose 112 minutes when it should be closer to 90, but it has big laughs at its best moments and is a good deal of fun for fans of Kreischer’s comedy.