The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lay the Favorite (2012)

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We continue our Bruce Willis Week with Lay the Favorite, a film based on the true story of gambler Beth Raymer, played by Rebecca Hall.  As with many Willis DTV flicks, there are also a bunch of other names here, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon, and Joshua Jackson.  I was also excited to see a film about sports gambling, because I love sports-- though I have only ever gambled on them in Las Vegas.

Lay the Favorite follows Hall as Beth, a young lady from Tallahassee who moves to Vegas in search of a job as a cocktail waitress.  When those jobs aren't forthcoming, she takes a job with Bruce Willis, who is a famous Vegas bookmaker and gambler.  Turns out she has a thing for numbers, so this should be the perfect gig, except Willis's wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is the jealous type, so Willis has to fire Hall.  Hall then meets Joshua Jackson, moves out to NYC, and gets a job making bets for bookie Vince Vaughn.  What happens though when she gets involved with some shady characters in the city that never sleeps?

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This one didn't work.  It's the kind of thing that sounds great on paper, and as a true story would probably be great as a documentary on cable TV, because it is interesting.  The problem is, from a cinematic angle, we have very little-- or very superficial-- conflict until the very end, meaning there's nothing driving the story for us.  We have no sense that winning or losing means anything with the betting, no sense that the choices these characters make will have any real consequences.  For two seconds we have the intrigue of Hall pursuing a relationship with Willis, but once Zeta-Jones steps in, it's over before it really starts.  Despite having some really great characters played by some really great actors, if nothing is ultimately happening until the very end, there's not much we as an audience can do, no matter how much we want to like a movie.

I didn't know what to do with Willis in this either.  I loved the scenes when he was freaking out about losing bets, smashing flat screens and firing everyone.  The awkward poignant moments with Hall and Zeta-Jones, not so much.  I think that's another problem here though, the real life Dink (that was the guy's name) is probably great, and hearing things from him directly probably sounds compelling and entertaining; that doesn't mean he works on-screen.  But I guess again I'm left with the conclusion that he probably sounded like he would translate well in a movie, and it just didn't work.

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When I was out in Vegas in early 2013, I stayed at the Rio.  I gotta say, it doesn't quite look as nice in real life as it does on screen-- though Vegas in general doesn't look that nice.  I have yet to see a movie that takes place in Vegas that shows the click-click guys, who are ubiquitous along The Strip, trying to hand out little flyers for all the local strip clubs.  I wonder if the casino lobby prevents that from happening.  It is a very interesting thing to see movies about Vegas after having visited.  Like a Leaving Las Vegas makes more sense, and I guess something like this feels a little more down-to-earth, because Vegas is less glamour and more, well, Vegas.

Catherine Zeta-Jones joins the long line of Oscar winners to be featured at the DTVC-- and the second one in Bruce Willis Week, after Forest Whitaker in Catch .44.  She doesn't have a big part, and it appears she's playing a woman older than herself, which is also very interesting.  Like Willis's though, I think it's another one that seemed great in real life, but on-screen doesn't quite wash.  She's not bad enough or crazy enough or even endearing enough to work on any of those levels.  In real life that's probably how she really is, and is probably very nice because of it; but in a movie, she needs to be more of one aspect than any of the others to be entertaining, and because she wasn't, it didn't work.

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Look who's playing basketball on the far right there.  It's Curly from Baller Blockin', Jerry Katz.  Only, he's listed as "Jerome Katz", playing "Some Guy", and he has two separate imdb pages.  Come on Jerry Katz, get your agent in there and clean that up.  We need more of you on-screen.  You should've had a much bigger part in this, like maybe winning a bet and saying "who's the baller now, wardy?"  Here's to you Jerry "Jerome" Katz, you're one of the good ones.

Unfortunately this is not.  What seems like a great idea based on an interesting true story just didn't work in a dramatic movie setting.  As I said above, maybe a cable TV special, with interviews from the actual people involved, combined with some dramatic reenactments would've been better.  Even the great cast couldn't save it.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1132449/

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