Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Lay the Favourite

2012. Dir: Stephen Frears. Starring: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn and Joshua Jackson. ●○○○○

We've had a couple of bad movies this year, there was the coy and cowardly J. Edgar and the babbling and barmy Dark Shadows, but both of those had some redeemable factors, sure they were failures but you could see the intention of the film-making and in both cases there was a stand-out performance or design element. Lay the Favourite has nothing, limp and irrelevant it has all the dramatic tension and artistry of a made for TV piece about a stripper made good. Except we see supporting character tits and there are a couple of actors who should know better.

Rebecca Hall is Beth Raymer, the stripper-cum-bookie-cum-Columbia graduated writer, on whose autobiography this is based. After a pre-credits encounter with a gun-toting client she's hot-footing it to Las Vegas to get into a safer line, cocktail waitressing in a casino. Not that the audience care - there was no threat in the gun scene and no ambition in the move. Oh well, maybe it will pick up when after a couple of unrelated conversations she walks into the office of Dink, Inc looking for a job. Bruce Willis is Dink, the professional gambler with an opening for a um, well a er, no I don't know why he hired her. To carry money and remember messages apparently. Essentially Dink works the margins in spread betting, employing the algorithms that will pay out regardless of the result. Only that's not interesting so mainly we see large bets on winners and basketball games outcomes because they're easier for an audience to comprehend.

Beth quickly shows Dink she is gifted in understanding the odds by repeating him exactly and being able to sort letters alphabetically in her head. Amazingly we're supposed to believe she's bright too, but we never see any sign of it, especially given the screeching and ditzy performance that suggests you'd tip her as a Waitress but only to get her to leave you alone. After half the movie spent in Vegas where Willis gets in a good mood than loses his temper, rinse and repeat, because of bad results. Not that there's any feeling of risk. Nothing changes; a run of good luck is followed by a run of bad luck and back again. If Dink wins he goes back to his lovely house and demanding wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones in a thankless role) and if he loses he goes back to his lovely house and demanding wife.

Even the romantic elements have no depth to them. Beth and Dink nearly have an affair, but there's no chemistry there. Dink returns to his wife because he really loves her. I guess he does because that's what he says. Not sure why, mind. Maybe because she needs him more than he needs her, or some such rubbish. Beth runs to New York with Pacey from Dawson's Creek. They find happiness. We know this because when she arrives Pacey kisses her on the stairs saying we'll have a wonderful time, and next time they're on screen she's about to go to the Caribbean (to work for a bit with Vince Vaughn) and Pacey asks why she's going when they've had such a wonderful time. Must be the kissing on stairs that's so wonderful.

Talking about Pacey (I know Joshua Jackson wasn't playing Pacey but for all anyone seemed to care about the character he may as well have been) he's filled out a bit and is looking exceptionally cute. So at least I have a new crush as a result of seeing this dire piece of crud.

Where was I? Oh yes, the plot... If you've lost track of what's going on it doesn't matter, there's nothing to miss because there are no stakes. There's a suggestion of the FBI and people going to gaol but nobody was taking it seriously apart from Pacey so it clearly didn't really matter. Finally they all watch a high-stakes basketball game and dance in a New Jersey bar. And it ends.

The performances are either forgettable or irritating, when Vince Vaughn as a loud mouth bookie is best in show you know you have problems. Furthermore there are no technical achievements worth a second glance, maybe a nice line in cheap clothes from Christopher Peterson and Laura Prepon had a striking handbag but that's not enough.

It's dreadful, badly paced, slow-witted and dull. Stephen Frears has hit a new career low and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. Avoid avoid avoid.

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