Old 12-06-2012, 01:36 PM
Stephen Frears' Lay the Favorite

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Lay the Favorite (2012)

“Lay the Favorite” is one of the most forgettable bad movies I’ve seen in the last few years. Usually, even when a movie is bad, there will at least be some terrible element of it that lingers in the memory, be it the performances, the screenplay, or the like. Even the “Twilight” films, which are uniformly awful, are slightly memorable just because of factors like this. What little plot “Lay the Favorite” has is lost in a mess of a screenplay that does absolutely nothing to stand out in any way whatsoever. If the filmmakers were simply hoping that it would be able to get along based on the stars’ names alone, they were quite mistaken.

The film revolves around a young lady, Beth (Rebecca Hall), who suddenly has a strong desire to move to Las Vegas and become a cocktail waitress. When she gets there, she finds that it’s not so easy to get into that kind of gig, however, a friend of hers sets her up with a bookie, Dink (Bruce Willis), who takes bets on just about everything. She eventually gets a job working for him, but things become complicated when Dink’s wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), feels like they are getting too close.

Dink dismisses her from his business, but finds that he really needs her, so he makes a deal with his wife that allows Beth to return to work. Despite Beth’s return, Dink’s recent string of bad luck continues, plunging him further and further into debt, and subsequently putting him into a bad mood. Because of this, Beth decides to move to New York with her new boyfriend Jeremy (Joshua Jackson). However, the lure of taking bets gets the better of her as she quickly falls in with an acquaintance of Dink’s, Rosie (Vince Vaughn), who conducts illegal gambling in New York where it could lead to a lot of trouble.

Just from looking at the star roster, one could easily be fooled into thinking that this may be a decent movie, which is pretty much the only hope the studio has for getting people to see it. Once you begin to watch the film though, you discover that they are merely adrift in a plot that goes nowhere. It’s not really fair to blame them for the material, but assuming that they had the chance to read the script before signing on, they should have easily noticed what they were signing on for.

Hall is usually one to choose really intriguing projects like “The Prestige,” “Frost/Nixon,” “The Town,” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” so as to why she suddenly veered off in this odd direction is unknown. Perhaps she simply wanted to try something new, leading her to venture into the realm of comedy. The problem is, her performance here is very sub-par and doesn’t do anything to help the material, though you can also say the opposite as the terrible material isn’t much to work with in the first place.

Bruce Willis tends to be a hit and miss actor. He’s been having an up and down kind of year so far with a pair of good films (“Moonrise Kingdom” and “Looper”), but also a pair of stinkers (“The Cold Light of Day” and “The Expendables 2”). Like Hall, he does what he can with the role, but again, the material doesn’t leave him much to work with either, making it feel like you’re just watching Willis have a bad day.

The screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis ends up being the film’s biggest downfall. It’s very repetitive, finding nothing better to do other than find excuses to split Beth and Dink up, only to have them get back together on good terms. Then there’s the problem of the meandering story. DeVincentis attempts to throw in a little plot near the end of the film, but by that point, the audience could care less because it hasn’t given you any reason to. Plus, you get an incredibly forced emotional climax that will have you cringing rather than sympathizing.

It’s a rather big surprise to find out that DeVincentis is the same man who wrote the screenplays for “High Fidelity” and “Grosse Point Blank,” two well-received films. It’s even more surprising to learn that “Lay the Favorite” was directed by Stephen Frears, who has directed such great films as “The Queen” and “Fail Safe.” It would be fascinating to learn what attracted him to this script, because he’s usually a much better judge of material than this.

For fans of these two, you really needn’t worry. Despite the miserable experience you’ll have sitting through this film, there is one bright side: It only takes about 5-10 minutes to start forgetting it once it’s over. After that, you merely have to hope that they will return to their old level of writing and directing. “Lay the Favorite” should serve as a strong enough deterrent for both of them to step up their game and as a warning to other filmmakers that sinking this low is not acceptable. 1.5/4 stars.
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