This uneven adult tale of the first sanctioned American brothel seems to be too prefabricated for its own good with capable cast and crew members trudging their way through what is rarely intended to be erotic.
Love Ranch (inspired by actual events) does have the great names of Oscar-winners like Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci at the top of its list as life as the notorious Mustang Ranch close to Reno, Nevada circa 1976 is chronicled by Taylor Hackford (Ray).
The deglamorized dreariness and sleaze of whorehouse life (with ex-cons and skulduggery) are in full view with Charlie Bontempo (Pesci, not really trying to come out of retirement after concentrating more on musical aspirations) and wife Grace (Mirren of The Last Station) in charge. Their characters are based on Joe and Sally Conforte, the latter a daughter of a prostitute. Lower-class folks boost the Bontempos financially and politically by living in a trailer park abutting the entrepreneurial complex.
The other main character is Armando Bruza played by Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta, a down-on-his-luck boxer who gradually becomes involved with Grace. Mark Jacobson's narrative adjusts the truth enough to give more impetus for these two unhappy souls.
Those who do seek out Love Ranch will get a rise out of one of Charlie's lines which poke fun at Mirren's richest screen portraits. But, it's another thing to see if even discerning arthouse cineastes will accept her as this regal type, one who gets the ball rolling as Armando notices.
It just often is the case when husband and wife work together (it's been a quarter-century than Hackford and Mirren met on White Nights) the results are tepid or mediocre at best. Drama tries to coalesce through the brightening turn of lovers who have their personal issues, but perhaps the aridness of the surroundings and the daily rigor impart a look of overworked contractors or an extra in Zombieland.
Pesci probably can't be expected to make the temperamental Charlie flourish with the cogency of Conforte, just settling into another angry Italian this time with another business scheme in Armando to train out at the ranch perhaps with a chance for a title bout. Mirren and Peris-Mencheta fare well together, though overrall the former appears more wayward with maybe less fuss and reigning in from her close helmer.
Behind them, of course, are attractive prostitutes of vintage 70s decor, and Gina Gershon's most experienced has some sagely snap about her. Along with Bai Ling and Taryn Manning, Scout Taylor-Compton provides youthful contrast with gullibility to go along with her sexuality.
A souped-up detention facility fenced-in with guard tower is at the core of this period picture, maybe an even-minded Ranch, but one often drained of love and humanity.