"SMALL ENGINE REPAIR"
Rated R. At AMC Boston Common and suburban theaters.
Based on the award-winning play written by actor-screenwriter John Pollono, "Small Engine Repair," which Pollono also directed and plays a lead role in, is a raw drama about three male childhood friends from Manchester, N.H., who spend a raucous night together and end up facing a terrible choice that might destroy their lives forever. Although one might argue that "Small Engine Repair" follows a formula and that at times the formula is too obvious and histrionic, the film gives its cast, some of whom originated their roles on the stage, a chance to shine on the screen.
The action begins when Pollono's hot-tempered Frankie is released from prison and reintroduced to his young daughter Crystal. Years later, college-bound Crystal (Ciara Bravo, "Cherry"), who likes taking selfies, lives with her father, who owns a lawnmower repair shop and refers to Manchester pejoratively as Manch-Vegas. Crystal has been accepted at UCLA and longs to go. Crystal's mother Karen (Jordana Spiro) has a drink and drug problem and does not see her daughter very often. When she does come to see Crystal on a night when Frankie and his best friends Packie (Shea Wigham) and Swaino (Jon Bernthal, who also produced) are at Frankie and Crystal's for dinner, Frankie, who is on the wagon and hates Karen, becomes very unhappy. This leads to a brutal fight in a local bar.
The story's chronology is a bit weird, insofar as something terrible happens that we do not find out about until well after it happens. It involves Chad Walker (a very good Spencer House), a G-Wagen-driving Northeastern student, who deals drugs for fun and whose father is a rich and powerful Boston attorney. Chad and Crystal have a connection, although Chad does not know that Frankie, who lures him to Manchester with the promise of a drug deal, is Crystal's father.
"Small Engine Repair" has a lot in common with Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River." Like the 2003 Eastwood film, which is based on an award-winning novel by Dorchester's Dennis Lehane, "Small Engine Repair" is about what it means to be friends from childhood, (as Crystal puts it) "clinging to the lowest rung of the middle class," and what such people are willing to do for one another when trouble arrives. As characters in the film point out, "Small Engine Repair" also has a homophobia problem common to most American social classes. Ducati-riding Swaino, who is a bit of a ladies man, lives with his three sisters, while stoner and boozer Packie shares a house with his grandmother. What happens when Frankie, Swaino, Packie and Chad get together for what looks like a drug deal makes the bar fight look insignificant. You may not have seen it coming. But when it does, you may feel, however fine the acting has been, a bit like you've been had. Bravo brings vulnerability and edginess to Crystal, but she has played this girl too many times. Wigham and Bernthal are magnetic presences and are as good as the material allows. Pollono, who also co-wrote the Boston Marathon bombing drama "Stronger," brings real working-class rage to Frankie. "Small Engine Repair" is so full of male, macho darkness that any light at all might leave you blindsided.
("Small Engine Repair" contains profanity, lewd language, drug use, violence and a sexual assault.)
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.