Saturday, 20 July 2024

‘The Machine’ delves into hijinks; ‘Ghosts of Beirut’ on TV


Unless you are already a fan of stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer, you might want to watch his Netflix special before attempting to fully grasp what is in store with “The Machine.”

For one thing, you will become frighteningly aware that his schtick requires him to perform shirtless in full potbellied glory, a routine that seemingly dates back to his college days before he embarked on his entertainment career.

Kreischer’s love of booze (apparently vodka) and hard-partying occupied his seven years (shades of “Animal House”) of fraternity living at Florida State University, once deemed the top party school in the country.

Heavy drinking and wild antics during college gained the comedian a large measure of notoriety with an article in “Rolling Stone” that resulted in Oliver Stone buying the film rights to the story.

The intended cinematic project of Kreischer’s story failed to materialize, but it did inspire, without the comedian’s involvement, “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder” in which Ryan Reynolds as the titular character engaged in a party lifestyle.

During his collegiate years, Kreischer enrolled in a Russian language course and admits never learning much of anything after two full years. Somehow, he ended up in a summer program in Russia.

Assisted in flashbacks to his younger self (portrayed by Jimmy Tatro), Kreischer inadvertently got mixed up with the Russian mob during a train trip to Moscow with his fellow students.

The booze-soaked ride on the rails resulted in Kreischer helping the mobsters to rob everyone on the train, and now this youthful indiscretion is coming back to haunt him.

Apparently, there may be truth to this story of the train robbery, but here the comedian is playing a fictionalized version of himself and one has to wonder where the line crosses into fiction.

As the film begins, Kreischer is in therapy sessions with his wife (Stephanie Kurtzuba) and two daughters, with the oldest one (Jess Gabor) holding a prototypical teenage grudge against her father’s antics.

Things only get worse when Kreischer manages to embarrass his oldest child at her sweet sixteen party, and his estranged father Albert (Mark Hamill) unexpectedly arrives from Florida.

The birthday party goes downhill even more when Russian mobster Irina (Iva Babic) turns up and kidnaps Kreischer and his father at gunpoint because the comedian stole a treasured pocket watch that belongs to her father.

Irina expects Kreischer to retrace his steps from his Russia trip more than two decades earlier, and if he fails to find the family heirloom, his teen daughter will be expendable.

A fair question to ask is how did Irina and her thugs manage to extract Kreischer and his father from our soil and end up in Russia. In the blink of an eye, they are on a train ride through Russia to relive a decades-old experience.

All that matters is the core of the story is the action in Russia, which alternates between the 1998 college version of Kreischer and the middle-aged man forced to endure a dark period of conflict with unforgiving mobsters.

At least, the drunken student Bert looked to party with the Russians and called himself “The Machine” as proof that his hard-partying lifestyle would make him a legend, which explains not only this movie but the image he carries into his stand-up routines.

“The Machine” straddles the line between comedy and action, and in the end doesn’t really bring it together in a cohesive manner. The transition from stand-up to supposed action comedy doesn’t land the jokes very well.

Die-hard fans of Kreischer may be more forgiving or understanding. After all, they are the target audience, even if this film proves not to be as memorable as the comedian’s streaming stand-up routines.


A four-part spy drama based on one of the greatest espionage stories of modern times, “Ghosts of Beirut” is the story of the manhunt for Imad Mughniyeh, the elusive Lebanese terrorist who outwitted his adversaries in the CIA and Mossad for over two decades.

The limited series reveals the origins of 21-year-old Mughniyeh (also known as “The Ghost”) who emerged from obscurity and was responsible for more American deaths than any other individual event prior to 9/11.

Told from American, Israeli and Lebanese perspectives, the series traces Mughniyeh’s origins from the Shiite slums of South Beirut to his masterminding of the concept of suicide bombers, a deadly tactic that led to his swift rise as the world’s most dangerous terrorist.

Based on extensive research of still-classified events, the drama spans decades and weaves in first-hand, real-life interviews with prominent officials from the CIA and Mossad, connecting the turmoil of 1980s Beirut with the spy games of the modern Middle East.

“Ghosts of Beirut,” which is streaming on Showtime, features an innovative narrative approach augmented by deep journalistic research and documentary elements. True spy stories are always fascinating.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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