Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Laura Prepon, Joshua Jackson, Frank Grillo, Joel Murray, Corbin Bernsen, John Carroll Lynch, Andrea Frankle
Written by: D.V. DeVincentis, based on a memoir by Beth Raymer
Directed by: Stephen Frears
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content, brief drug use, and nudity
Running Time: 94
Date: 20/01/2012

Lay the Favorite (2012)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bet Peeves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If truth is funnier than fiction, you'd never know it from this overwritten, uneven, jerky comedy, which is apparently based on a memoir. Director Stephen Frears is usually quite trustworthy, regularly working with both strong screenplays and great performers (see High FidelityThe Queen, etc.). But here, he's clearly floundering. The main character switches from dumb to smart, and changes her affections and friendships, in the space of a couple of scenes. The movie has no logical or character flow.

Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall) is a ditzy stripper who dreams of becoming a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. Upon arriving there, she finds that jobs are hard to come by, but a neighbor introduces her to sports betting maven Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis). Working for him, Beth finally utilizes her head for numbers, and brings Dink good luck. Trouble arises when Beth becomes attracted to Dink and Dink's wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Things gets worse when Beth goes to work for the shady "Rosie" (Vince Vaughn), begins taking bets from a gambler with a dark secret (John Carroll Lynch), and involves her new boyfriend (Joshua Jackson).

For amateurs, the gambling sequences are confusing, and nothing feels as organic or as genuine as it could have. Characters spend too much time explaining the plot to each other verbally, rather than Frears finding ways to show it. The only strong points come during the scenes that Rebecca Hall and Bruce Willis share together. Their chemistry generates something genuine, which is lost when the movie separates them during most of the second half.
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