Small Engine Repair
Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Small Engine Repair is a different look at male bonding

Playwright John Pollono adapts one of his plays in Small Engine Repair from Vertical Entertainment for the big screen. Frankie (John Pollono), Swain (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). However, when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. 

Director John Pollono introduces us to Frankie, fresh from a jail term, coming home to the adoration of his friends but a cold response from his young daughter Crystal.  Over time, Crystal grows into a confident young woman, whom Frankie has raised pretty much by himself while maintaining contact with Swanie and Packie. The boys get together for their annual holiday ritual, and before Crystal goes shopping with her deadbeat mother, Karen (Jordana Spiro), the trio of friends have an early Christmas dinner with Crystal.

Naturally, since they have a free night, the boys decided to hit up a bar, and through a series of events, their friendship becomes severed, and they end up not talking to each other for three months. Wanting to make amends with his friends, Frankie invites them over for some beer, steaks, and PPV fight. When college-aged drug dealer Chad (Spencer House) shows up, Swaino and Packie soon find themselves thrust into a life-changing night with Frankie.

I had no idea what to expect with Small Engine Repair. Judging the film from the trailer, I thought it would explore unity and perhaps sprinkles of modern masculinity. From the film’s onset, that is the angle that director John Pollono sets up. Particularly with the back and forth dialogue of Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and Packie (Shea Whigham). Instead, Pollono builds us up to a dark drama with a twist that I highly advise you to avoid knowing ahead of time.

The acting in Small Engine Repair is first-rate, with both John Pollono and Jon Bernthal reprising their roles from the play. Both men have believable chemistry as friends, and each has a moment to shine, as does Shea Whigham in the part of Packie. Watching the three men interact, I was reminded of my lifelong friendships where you argue and bicker with each other but still have an unbreakable bond.

In the role of Chad, Spencer House quickly taps into the toxic frat-boy behavior needed for the part and makes his character very unlikeable. If I have one gripe with the film, the women characters do not have as much screen time as the men. Ciara Bravo was impressive with her role in this past summer’s Cherry, so I hoped she would get a big moment. However she does not get her moment but continues to impress me with her range. However, Jordana Spiro has some great moments in the film’s third act that I applaud John Pollono for providing her with so she can shine.

Combining elements of a seventies drama with echoes of black comedy, Small Engine Repair is a commendable debut from director John Pollono that is worth your time.

Final Grade: B

Small Engine Repair is in theaters now

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