Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Trailer Hits Theaters This Friday Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Christian Bale Admits He Was Initially "Jealous" When Ben Affleck Was Cast As Batman Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: First Trailer For Thomas Vinterberg's 'Far From The Madding Crowd' Starring Carey Mulligan Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco Watch: Zac Efron Talks About His Masturbation Techniques In 'The Interview' Segment With James Franco First Look Images: Patrick Stewart As A Neo-Nazi In 'Blue Ruin' Director Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' & More First Look Images: Patrick Stewart As A Neo-Nazi In 'Blue Ruin' Director Jeremy Saulnier's 'Green Room' & More Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey Watch: Footage From "Sick," Unreleased Marilyn Manson Video, Directed By Eli Roth & Featuring Lana Del Rey R.I.P. Mike Nichols (1931-2014) R.I.P. Mike Nichols (1931-2014) Christopher Nolan Talks 'Interstellar' Twist And Enigmatic Ending Christopher Nolan Talks 'Interstellar' Twist And Enigmatic Ending Watch: Al Pacino Plays An Aging Rocker Transformed By John Lennon In First Trailer For ‘Danny Collins’ Watch: Al Pacino Plays An Aging Rocker Transformed By John Lennon In First Trailer For ‘Danny Collins’ Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, And More Review: 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1' Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, And More Watch: First Trailer For 'The Age Of Adaline' Starring Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn And Harrison Ford Watch: First Trailer For 'The Age Of Adaline' Starring Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn And Harrison Ford Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Review: Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway & More Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination'  Starring Ethan Hawke SXSW Review: Spierig Brothers 'Predestination' Starring Ethan Hawke From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Review: 'Lay The Favorite' A Comedy That's An Empty Bet

The Playlist By John Lichman | The Playlist December 5, 2012 at 4:19PM

“You can't blame Stephen Frears for trying” seems to be the mantra for "Lay the Favorite," a mild romp through the T&A world of Las Vegas, gambling and literary adaptation. After all, "High Fidelity" is an iconic film to obsessive nerds (Need proof? See: every listicle on the Internet) and Frears is no slouch to crafting strong and/or sexy female characters (Tamara Drew, Cherí, The Queen). But what happens when he tries to mash them up and form the unholy love child of a stat geek and a bubbly idiot savant who used to be a stripper?
0
Lay The Favorite, Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis

“You can't blame Stephen Frears for trying” seems to be the mantra for "Lay the Favorite," a mild romp through the T&A world of Las Vegas, gambling and literary adaptation. After all, "High Fidelity" is an iconic film to obsessive nerds (Need proof? See: every listicle on the Internet) and Frears is no slouch to crafting strong and/or sexy female characters (Tamara Drew, Cherí, The Queen). But what happens when he tries to mash them up and form the unholy love child of a stat geek and a bubbly idiot savant who used to be a stripper?

You get Beth Raymer (the film is based on Raymer's memoir), played by a nearly unrecognizable Rebecca Hall, a down-on-her-luck stripper who goes from trying to set the world handstand record with a suburban client and sipping martinis to giving a freebie to another customer, who proudly shows off his big gun proclaiming “it's only natural to be afraid of it.” And yes, the metaphorical big gun was of the literal variety. Positive that stripping could be a bad career choice, she consults her father (Corbin Bernsen, stealing a page from Walter White's stylebook) who concurs: she should go become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. After landing her Daisy Dukes in a local motel, she hooks up with two strippers on a roof (hello Laura Prepon aka Donna from "That '70s Show") and gets involved with bookie--“but not, because that's illegal”--Dink (Bruce Willis). In fact, Dink takes a liking to Beth since she's got number crunching abilities that would make Raymond Babbit depressed and the ability to alphabetize the letters of any word. Quirky, spontaneous attractive girl meets older, paunchy man who believes in odds, luck and never taking a chance?

Lay The Favorite, Rebecca Hall

If this is starting to sound like the same old tune, there's a good reason as Frears has teamed up here with his "High Fidelity" scribe D.V. DeVincentis. This could easily be the continuation of Rob Gordon's love child as she coos and flirts from foot rubs to pouting when Dink tries to save his own marriage with Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a trophy wife with a heart of gold that she'd pawn but then cry because that's about all the character we're alotted until she's to be loved by the audience. The gambling references come easy with "Lay the Favorite" (the titular phrase being booki-ese for “bet on the winning team”). Once the field's presented, Dink's arch-nemesis returns: Vince Vaughn! Or rather, Vince Vaughn playing Rosie, a bookie from New York (“where it's illegal, unlike here in Vegas where we place bets,” Dink intones). However, Rosie immediately drops off the face of the film and the see-saw love triangle between Tulip, Beth and Dink leaves no room for anything else to happen. When Dink inevitably must choose between Beth and Tulip, the introduction of a nebbish guy (Joshua Jackson) seems perfect to end Beth's adventures in Vegas.

It's here that the adaptation of the memoir may not be right for DeVincentis and Frears. Beth goes back to work for Dink, endures verbal abuse because she was supposed to be his “good luck charm,” kind of quits/is fired, cashes in his chips, moves to New York with Jeremy the nebbish guy who is a journalist that can afford a SoHo apartment and...wants to go back to being a bookie! But wait! Dink doesn't want her back in Vegas, so he blackmails her and this drives Beth back into the arms of Vince Vaughn! If you were wondering, yes, Vaughn plays the same version of himself you can find in every film since "Swingers" with even greater gusto and girth. Will working as a bookie in New York, where it is illegal, bode ill tidings for our heroine? Find out! Short answer: yeah, and it causes the inevitable reunion of friends.

Lay The Favorite, Catherine Zeta-Jones

The trouble it seems Frears keeps running into is how to play the favorite, as it were. Rebecca Hall embodies Betty Boop to a T, seeking excitement wherever it may come until she learns to grow up. But this shtick gets old fast, especially in the face of Zeta-Jones--literally as she has “work” done at one point and it really seems to just be an excuse to explain, uh, the work done. Willis has had his “I'm a schlub, but hey” act down since the '80s, so there's nothing wrong there. It's the comedy that can't bother to make a single laugh, aside from Jeremy shouting into a payphone, “If I'm a convicted felon, I can't be a journalist anymore!”

By the end of the film it seems that even Frears has given up. "Lay The Favorite" places a bet but comes up empty with a comedy that won't make you smirk, with a gaggle of characters and actors who bounce and riff with very little rhyme or reason. [D]

This is a reprint of our review from the Sundance Film Festival.

This article is related to: Lay The Favorite, Stephen Frears, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bruce Willis


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates