What goes on the internet stays there forever, pal!” That sentiment has never rung more true than it does in the new film from writer/director John Pollono called Small Engine Repair. And never before have we seen the consequences of the internet’s ornery persistence play out in such a fiendishly entertaining manner when social media, selfies, toxic masculinity, and booze collide in a small New England town.
Pollono adapts his own award-winning stage production and stars as hot-headed former convict and caring dad Frank Romanowski in the story of three lifelong friends who gather one night to share memories and celebrate their friendship. Joining Frank in his small engine repair shop are loud-mouthed ladies man Swaino (Jon Bernthal, Baby Driver), and sensitive self-professed social media expert Packie (Shea Whigham). Despite their fighting, lies, and shameless jackassery, the three share an unbreakable bond that will be put to the test by the time the credits roll.
Uniting the three is Frank’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo) who Swaino and Packie looked after while Frank served a prison sentence for an unnamed offense that probably had something to do with his fiery temper. When word gets out that Crystal has been accepted to UCLA, her deadbeat mother Karen (Jordana Spiro, Ozark) shows up complicating not only Frank’s relationship with his daughter, but also that between Frank, Packie, and Swaino.
The plot plays out in what is essentially one of those real-time, single setting affairs as the boys celebrate over steak, high dollar scotch, and cases upon cases of beer. To some, the extended party scene – and perhaps even the film’s first two acts – may come off as too drawn out and even indulgent at times, but take my word for it, investing in the on-screen camaraderie and appreciating the chemistry on display from Pollono, Bernthal, and Whigham will pay huge dividends as the twisty-turny third act is set in motion. Hang on to your seats, I promise you won’t see what is coming.
Unbeknownst to Packie and Swaino, Frank has arranged for a well-connected Ivy League drug dealer named Chad Walker (Spencer House, TV's Space Force) to show up with a special delivery to get the party kicked into high gear. Throw in the unexpected drunken appearance of Karen, and a bombshell revelation involving social media, and the stage is set for the film’s sadistic finale that will have you squirming in your seat.
Dirty, nasty, and dripping with the same icky ooze that permeated Friedkin’s Killer Joe, Small Engine Repair gets a lot of mileage from its hardscrabble setting which plays as a major character. The blue collar town of Manchester, New Hampshire – pejoratively called Manch-Vegas for its oxymoronic comparison to the glitz of Las Vegas – has a strong influence on the characters who speak with heavy Boston accents and are rarely without a witty comeback or zinging insult. Crystal reminds us of her community’s mindset when she says she’s tired of watching her father work so hard just so they can continue “clinging to the lowest rung of the middle class.”
Loaded with plenty of biting commentary on the scourge of social media and the toxic nature of unbridled machismo, Small Engine Repair often shows its small budget, while its stagey personality feels somewhat restricting at times. But Pollono hits a towering home run with his pack of deeply flawed, but easy to love characters (as portrayed by the stellar cast), and a plot that ratchets up the entertainment factor the deeper down the rabbit hole it goes.
Just remember, having one's post go viral is not always a good thing.
(Released by Whitewater Films and rated “R” for pervasive language, crude sexual content, strong violence, a sexual assault, and drug use.)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com.)