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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Lay the Favorite

MOVIE REVIEWS

LAY THE FAVORITE (2012)

Starring Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Joshua Jackson, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Prepon, Frank Grillo, Wendell Pierce, Jo Newman, Andrea Frankle, Wayne Pére, Dominique DuVernay, Corbin Bernsen and Joel Murray.

Screenplay by D.J. DeVincentis.

Directed by Stephen Frears.

Distributed by Radius/TWC.  94 minutes.  Rated R.

 

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Lay the Favorite

At the beginning of Lay the Favorite, there is a title scrawl which reads: "As luck would have it, the following story is true."

Which makes you sort of wonder, why tell this particular true story?  I'm not saying that to be mean, Lay the Favorite actually has some interesting, quirky characters and in many ways it's a better movie than you might expect.  However, there is nothing really that special about what these people do to make them movie-worthy.  The world is full of people who make a living on illegal gambling as bookies, just the fact that these ones are a little more eccentric and nicer than most does not make them inherently cinematic.  In the long run, they are all pretty much low-level crooks.

Had I never known this was based on a true story, strangely I may have enjoyed Lay the Favorite more.  It doesn't feel particularly realistic, and more importantly, the story behind Lay the Favorite is less intriguing than the characters who populate it. 

Which makes you fixate on my original question: What is it about this real life story which makes it worthy of being filmed?

Well, basically, I guess, because someone went and did it.  Actually, some fairly talented people, beyond the impressive b-level cast (and yes, at this point in their careers, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and even Vince Vaughn are b-level), Lay the Favorite also gets some visual sparkle from slumming British art-house director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons, My Favorite Launderette, The Grifters, Prick Up Your Ears, High Fidelity).

It also features a rare starring role by likable indie actress Rebecca Hall (who was Vicky in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona.)  Here she plays Beth, a good-natured white-trash former stripper who moves from the Florida panhandle to Las Vegas in search of her life's purpose and ends up stumbling into the fact that she is a gambling savant with a head for numbers.  Unfortunately, her character is just a catalogue of ditzy smiles, giggles and twitches, making it hard to take her completely seriously as a math wiz.

Her entry into the gambling world comes through Dink (Willis), a low-key professional gambler who runs a gambling shop (for lack of a better word, he's not exactly a sports book, nor is he exactly a bookie, but he has aspects of both.)  He also has a jealous aging trophy wife (Zeta-Jones) who doesn't like her husband spending so much time with this bouncy new stranger in short shorts and fuck-me tank tops.  (Speaking of clothes, what's the deal with Willis wearing the same New York Dolls black and pink t-shirt in almost all his scenes here?)

After Beth and Dink have a falling out due to their mutual attraction and his determination to stay faithful to his wife, Beth ends up working with a hyperactive caffeinated NY bookie named Rosie (played by Vince Vaughn in particularly twitchy "Vince Vaughn" mode.)  Beth also meets a dreamy young journalist (Joshua Jackson) who she thinks could be the one, but she inadvertently gets involved in a Federal racketeering charge.

Despite a $20 million budget, in a very abbreviated theatrical release Lay the Favorite cleaned up with a domestic take of about $21,000.00.  (No, that isn't just an exaggerated joke for effect, those are the real box office numbers.)  That makes Lay the Favorite a much worse bet than any of its characters made. 

Lay the Favorite is inconsequential and a bit forgettable, but it doesn't deserve to be a flop of those epic dimensions.  Perhaps it will capture a cult following now that it is receiving a video release.  Perhaps a cult following is more than it deserves, but the film does deserve a greater audience than it has attracted so far.  It won't change anyone's life, it won't teach anyone anything substantial, it won't even be remembered an hour after it is finished, but in its running time it's a rather amusing diversion.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2013.

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Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2013.

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