Wednesday, March 6, 2013


(US/France/UK - 2012)

This one probably looked good on paper--an all-star gambling comedy that reunites HIGH FIDELITY director Stephen Frears and co-writer D.V. DeVincentis--but the end result is an absolute mess, mostly incoherent and blandly shot in almost sitcom fashion, and easily Frears' worst film.  Based on a memoir by journalist Beth Raymer, played here by Rebecca Hall in one of the most annoying performances in recent memory, LAY THE FAVORITE has Raymer, a porn web site model and in-home private stripper, leaving Florida to head to Vegas for her dream job as a cocktail waitress.  That she ends up taking her previously untapped math and memorization skills to become a major player in the operation of renowned Vegas bookie Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis) is likely a fascinating story, but Frears and DeVincentis bungle this at every turn.  Hall is a fine actress and approaches the role with fervent enthusiasm, but she comes off as a wide-eyed, white-trash Judy Holliday from BORN YESTERDAY with daddy issues.  It's never plausible for a moment that she so quickly picks up on the intricacies of Vegas bookmaking, or at least from the incomprehensible way DeVincentis' script conveys it.  There's too many subplots with too many characters and no consistency in how they behave from scene to scene.  Beth falls hard for Dink, who's devoted to his seemingly bitchy wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), leading to Dink firing Beth to keep the peace...but then Tulip lets Dink rehire her and they become friends.  Beth eventually moves to NYC and falls in love with a boring journalist (played by the boring Joshua Jackson) and starts working for an obnoxious, fast-talking, hot-dogging bookie named Rosie (Vince Vaughn, cast radically against type as "Vince Vaughn"), and it's Tulip's idea to head to NYC to help Beth when one of her regular gamblers (John Carroll Lynch) is set up by the feds and Beth and her innocent boyfriend might get busted.  Of course, it all leads to a sentimental, feel-good ending with dialogue like "You know when you don't need to be taken care of anymore?  It's when you decide to take care of someone else," a line that Willis seems to be in actual physical pain trying to say.  Then the whole cast dances while mugging shamelessly over the closing credits.  With Emmett/Furla Films and 50 Cent among the boatload of credited producers and Corbin Bernsen also in the cast, it's not surprising that LAY THE FAVORITE received only scant US theatrical distribution, grossing $21,000 on just 61 screens against a $20 million budget.  Who was this movie even made for in the first place?  (R, 94 mins)

(US - 2012)

In many ways a CRAZY HEART for the always-interesting Robert Carlyle, CALIFORNIA SOLO offers the veteran Scottish character actor his best big-screen role in years, though it's too bad no one saw it.  Released on just two screens, the film stars Carlyle as Lachlan MacAldonich, the former guitarist for a (fictional) Next Big Thing '90s Britpop group called The Cranks.  Hailed as the British Nirvana, the Cranks imploded when the band's frontman Jed--Lachlan's older brother--died from a drug overdose in Hollywood.  After a solo album bombed, Lachlan left the music business and settled into a life of anonymity, and is now working on an organic farm in California, living paycheck to paycheck and hosting a podcast called "Flame-Outs," that chronicles the tragic deaths of famous rock stars.  Lachlan's quiet life slowly starts to unravel after a DUI brings a 1996 charge of marijuana possession back to haunt him, and now INS is threatening to revoke his green card and send him back to Scotland.  This turn of events causes Lachlan to both self-destruct and face the long-buried demons of his past--the daughter he abandoned, his failed career and unrealized potential, and the guilt he feels over his brother's death (Lachlan gave him the drugs). 

Writer-director Marshall Lewy doesn't avoid formula but also doesn't let Lachlan off the hook or make excuses for him--he's very flawed and can be a bit of a self-centered dick at times (watch how quickly he abandons the niceties when he meets his ex-wife and daughter for coffee), and Carlyle very deftly balances those aspects of this complex character.  Throughout the film, Lewy and Carlyle continue to reveal layers of Lachlan that make you look at some of the film's earlier events in a different light, particularly the devastating scene where he asks the Cranks' former manager (Michael Des Barres) to loan him $5000 for his attorney's fees, and the manager just unloads 15 years worth of rage on Lachlan (Des Barres absolutely nails this one-scene performance).  Carlyle also gets excellent support from A Martinez as his boss (who gets one of the film's best lines: "All the Mexicans I got workin' for me and it's the Scottish guy who has the immigration problems?"), Alexia Rasmussen as a regular customer at Lachlan's Farmers' Market booth and possible love interest, and a natural, unaffected performance by Savannah Lathem as Lachlan's estranged 14-year-old daughter.  CALIFORNIA SOLO is one of those really under-the-radar gems that nobody's heard of, which is a shame.  It deserved better treatment.  (R, 95 mins)

(US/Canada - 2012)

Shot in 2009 and exhibited mainly on the festival circuit before getting a one-screen release in NYC last summer, COLLABORATOR is an occasionally interesting acting exercise that ultimately feels too stagy and implausible for the screen.  It does give two veteran character actors a chance to stretch out, and while the performances are fine, there's just not much else here.  Making his writing/directing debut, Martin Donovan stars as a NYC playwright fleeing to L.A. after critics savage his latest work. Telling his wife (Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, transitioning nicely to acting) that he needs some time to ponder the future of his career, he crashes in Reseda with his mother (Katherine Helmond), while mulling over an offer to do an uncredited script polish on a horror film or work on adapting a book for a film to star his ex-girlfriend (Olivia Williams), now a major movie star.  With Helmond out with friends, he's tempted to rekindle his romance with Williams when childhood acquaintance David Morse, an ex-con who still lives across the street with his mother (Eileen Ryan, Sean Penn's mother), shows up and badgers Donovan into having a couple of beers.  Within a few minutes, a SWAT team shows up at Morse's house across the street.  The cops are after Morse for something, and he takes Donovan hostage.  With the cops surrounding the house and the hostage drama playing out on TV, Donovan and Morse...talk and improv, as the lifelong issues of both men and why they are what they are bubble to the surface.

Essentially a one-act play stretched out to feature length with a few additional characters, COLLABORATOR doesn't accomplish much and was likely a low-budget labor of love and a chance for some friends to hang out and make a movie.  As a director, Donovan (not to be confused with the other Martin Donovan, who directed 1989's brilliant APARTMENT ZERO) acquits himself well with some observational bits early on that are reminiscent of vintage, pre-Dutch angle-fixated Hal Hartley (Donovan starred in several Hartley films, like TRUST, SIMPLE MEN, AMATEUR, and FLIRT), and never gets self-indulgent.  It's nice to see guys like Morse (a great actor) and Donovan in lead roles and both are excellent, so for that aspect, COLLABORATOR is worth seeing if you're a fan of these dependable character actors.  Others will likely be bored.  (Unrated, 87 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

No comments:

Post a Comment