Starring: Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson, Vince Vaughan, Laura Prepon, Frank Grillo, John Carroll Lynch,
Running Time: 91 minutes
Ever watched a film only to double take when the director’s name appears in the credits? Such a thing happened to me after watching LAY THE FAVOURITE, as the name Stephen Frears, who many of us would respect, crawled onto the screen. This is the man who has brought us a range of memorable films such as HIGH FIDELITY (2000), THE QUEEN (2006), and DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002). How he managed to become attached to this lifeless picture is anyone’s guess. Even more remarkable is that he isn’t alone. There’s a fairly respectable cast to work with and a screenplay from one of the co-writers of HIGH FIDELITY (2000) and GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997).
Oh well, shit happens, and sometimes the act of shitting can be painful. LAY THE FAVOURITE sees a young woman named Beth (Hall) head to Las Vegas with dreams of becoming a cocktail waitress having decided to quit her job as a stripper. A day or two in Vegas and she meets professional gambler Dink (Willis) who immediately gives her a job working for him. Things soon turn sour when it becomes apparent that Beth is a good luck charm and Dink’s wife (Jones) is a jinx. And nothing makes any sense at all!
First of all I just couldn’t figure out the tone of the film. It certainly feels like a crime caper along the lines of Tarantino or Elmore Leonard from the late 1990s, but done exceptionally badly. If someone told me this film had been held back since 1997 I wouldn’t doubt them for a second, I’d simply comment on how impressive the aging make-up was on the actors. Things happen awfully quickly with no real explanation as to why. Dink hires Beth but it isn’t until later he finds out she is good with numbers. There’s also a scene where Beth demonstrates how good she is with letters, revealing herself to be a Countdown genius, but this little titbit never once falls in line with the actual plot of the film. It also conflicts with her being portrayed and written as a complete and utter idiot.
Beth is perhaps the most unlikable and despicable character I’ve ever seen in a film, not helped by her contradictory ways. Once she gets her job with Dink she is focused on one thing only, destroying his marriage. They’ve known each other for such a short amount of time that surely the filmmakers didn’t expect the audience to see this as a romantic or likable trait. She even yells at Dink to hang up his phone knowing full well it’s his wife and that she can probably hear her. She then becomes the whiniest little…Well, I can’t exactly use that word even though it is the perfect example of an acceptable time to call a woman that. Her character is naive, whiny, cruel, and stupid, which makes her highly unlikable, but then she does things that contradict her nature which just makes her, and the film, confusing.
The supporting cast aren’t much better, with Vaughan coming across as a robotic version of himself where you just type lines in for him to say. The film seems to have no idea of where to go or what to do. If it’s a comedy then where are the jokes, if the ending is supposed to be tense then why isn’t there a single character I can root for? There’s nothing, and I mean NOTHING, emotional, dramatic, relatable, funny, or even interesting about this shambles. I don’t even understand the mechanics of the operation Dink was running, nor how Beth supposedly became good at it. At one point in the film Dink yells at Beth “Don’t TAKE the favourite, LAY the favourite” and what that means I can’t rightly say. At the end of the day gambling all comes down to luck, and trying to tell a story that represents it as more than such results in an uninteresting and misguided film. The finale is supposed to resemble that of sports movies, except here we are watching gamblers watch the sport on television. The thrill from gambling comes from risking your own money and thank God I didn’t invest in this film. If you do take a gamble in watching this film, the odds aren’t in your favour.