Review: Lay The Favorite
This movie was reviewed as part of our Sundance 2012 coverage.
PLOT: Beth (Rebecca Hall) ekes out a meagre living as a private dancer, but an encounter with a gun-wielding client makes her reconsider her options. She moves to Las Vegas, hoping to become a cocktail waitress, but instead finds herself working for Dink (Bruce Wills) a professional sports gambler, who hires her to place bets for him around town. She quickly gets drawn into his lifestyle, but her close relationship with Dink gets his wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) jealous, leading her to a degenerate bookie, Rosey (Vince Vaughn) who runs a different kind of operation from the basically honest Dink.
REVIEW: I really wanted to like LAY THE FAVORITE. Not only does it star the one-and only Bruno (Willis yo!), but it also promised a cool R-rated indie role for co-star Vince Vaughn, a return for the long MIA Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a star turn by up-and-comer Rebecca Hall. Heck, it's even directed by Stephen Frears, who, in 1990- made one of the all-time best con-artist movies, THE GRIFTERS, in addition to films like THE HIT, HIGH FIDELITY and DANGEROUS LIASONS. What could go wrong? A lot actually. Right from the opening Chico Marx quote read by Hall, who sports an incredibly annoying, unconvincing attempt at a stereotypical, airhead/reality star American accent, I knew I was in big trouble.
In fact, Hall's voice here is just as grating as Sean Penn's annoying nasally-drawl in THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, and this is a really big problem when your leading character is annoying rather than likable- especially if they're going to be in nearly every scene in a two-hour movie. Hall is just an instance of absolutely fatal miscasting. When it seems like the actor/actress has contempt for the character they're playing, you've got problems.
That said, she's only one of LAY THE FAVORITE's myriad of problems.While Hall is my biggest issue with the film, I also didn't care for Frears' comic approach, as this is the type of premise that would have been far more entertaining as something you could take seriously, rather than the goofy-ass romp they try to pull off. If anything, this feels like one of those bad, circa 1990-style Hollywood Pictures comedies, that back in the day would have probably starred James Belushi, and been the type of thing you'd eventually find on sale for .99 cents at the bottom of a barrel at Wal-Mart.
It's a real shame though, as LAY THE FAVORITE does have a couple of good things going for it. For one thing, Bruce Willis seems to be having a ball being able to cut loose in an R-rated flick. The old potty-mouth Bruce Willis we know and love is on full display in a few scenes. Same goes for Vince Vaughn, who's someone I've totally written off in the last few years, after a run of terrible studio comedies. It's nice to see him back in an adult indie, and while his role is small, he does a lot with it, and is better than he's been since probably INTO THE WILD.
That's not nearly enough to save the film though, and even if Frears goes back in the editing room and gives it a recut, I don't think it's salvageable at this point. It's SUCH a mess. Another weird thing about LAY THE FAVORITE is the nearly unrecognizable Catherine Zeta-Jones as Willis' trashy wife. Zeta-Jones looks borderline anorexic, and her face seems so botoxed that it's essentially immobile for the entire film. Oh well, at least her attempt at an American-accent is better than Hall's. Faint praise, but praise nonetheless.
I really hate panning LAY THE FAVORITE as I had such high hopes going into it. If anything, it proves (as does THIS MUST BE THE PLACE) that despite A-list stars, a good director, and the best intentions, it's still far too easy to make a train-wreck of a film, especially if it's a comedy, as that's a notoriously tough thing to pull off. LAY THE FAVORITE isn't the least bit funny, and whatever energy Willis and Vaughn bring to the film is an absolute waste. This is a dud.