A Midwestern ingťnue with a head for numbers makes her way to Las Vegas with stars in her eyes and fame on her agenda. Nothing works quite as planned, however, and the young wannabe starlet ends up learning the ins and outs of the betting biz taking it all to heart as she tries to break out and make a new life for herself.
Hereís what I wrote about this release in my original theatrical review:
ďBeth (Rebecca Hall) has left her tiny Midwestern hometown to head out to Las Vegas with dreams of becoming a cocktail waitress. Unable to break into the industry, unwilling to strip (been there, done that), her new friend Holly (Laura Prepon) turns her own to smalltime gambler and all around nice guy Dink (Bruce Willis). Heís looking for someone to help him do his business alongside employees Frankie (Frank Grillo) and Scott (Wayne Pťre), answer the phones, run bets to the casino, that sort of thing, and with Beth so eager to start he hires her virtually on the spot.
Suddenly the young woman finds herself inside a world she never would have imagined beforehand, meeting eccentric New York bookies like Rosie (Vince Vaughn) while becoming an expert on playing odds and shifting betting lines in the process. But gambling is gambling, Dink personal life, mainly his relationship with overprotective wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and his sudden mood swings when his luck turns south makes a working relationship difficult, Beth uncertain if staying with him in this venture is the right thing to do.
Based on Beth Raymerís memoir, Lay the Favorite has all the makings for a superior comedy revolving around the high stakes world of Las Vegas gambling and underground sports book making. Itís incredibly well cast (I havenít even mentioned Joshua Jackson, in every way making the perfect everyman portraying Bethís even-keeled NYC journalist boyfriend Jeremy) and features zippy direction by the great Stephen Frears (The Grifters, The Queen) all of which should have made this movie an absolute canít-miss enterprise in all the ways that count.
Unfortunately, Frearsí direction might just be too zippy for its own good, everything put at such a fevered pace the relationships between Beth and all the different men entering her life never feel grounded in anything close to reality. On top of that, the usually reliable D.V. DeVincentis (Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity) has written a script thatís way too one-dimensional and lacking in anything close to nuance, he and the director crafting some sort of slapstick comedy out of Raymerís prose that oftentimes seems ill-suited to the material.
Not that I always minded. Hall throws herself into this, her crackerjack freewheeling performance a rather beguiling hoot for most of the film. On top of that, she and Willis have instant chemistry, and while I didnít always buy their relationship I still found their growing father-daughter bond to be more concrete that it arguably had any right to be.
But everything is played on such a grand scale, the performances (other than Jacksonís, who nicely underplays his scenes providing solid humanistic contrast to all the uncontrolled mayhem) so over the top and large than life itís difficult to take any of this all that seriously. Thereís too much shouting, too much running around, too much waving of the arms and throwing things across the room. The constant hyperventilating and overexertion drove me crazy, and more often than not I kept wishing I could yell, ĎStop!í and get everyone to take a break for a much needed breather.
I havenít read Raymerís book but Iíve heard nothing but good things about it. Additionally, based on the bones of the narrative depicted here (DeVincentis apparently spruced things up and fictionalized much of this quite a little bit) I get the feeling there are the seeds of a pretty great motion picture hidden somewhere within the story. Sadly, Lay the Favorite just isnít it. As good as some of the individual moments are and for as hard as Hall, Willis and the others try I just couldnít buy what was going on, the final product a bad bet Iíd hesitate to gamble a cent on no matter what the odds the bookmaker attempted to give me.Ē
I still find myself wishing that I enjoyed Lay the Favorite more than I actually do. Itís got a game cast, some great performances and some individual scenes that pack the kind of zesty punch I kept hoping Iíd find throughout the motion picture. But overall Frears and DeVincentis just canít hold it all together or find a narrative balance that would make the film work, their adaptation of Raymerís book a sadly disjointed misfire that has me more disappointingly frustrated than it does anything else.
Lay the Favorite is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and features optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The only extras are a series of Deleted Scenes, none of which sadly would have added anything to the motion picture itself making Frearsí excising of them more than necessary.
Lay the Favorite could have been a winner, instead itís nothing more than a star-studded disappointment. Sadly, even though the picture and audio tech specifics are high overall this release is nothing more than a bad bet all the way around.