‘Lay the Favorite’: Odds against

December 4, 2012


“Lay the Favorite” feels like it should be a better gambling movie – funnier, like “The Sting,” or more exciting like “The Cincinnati Kid.”

But despite a cast that includes Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones – and a director like Stephen Frears – “Lay the Favorite” (opening in limited release Friday 12/7/12) just kind of, well, lays there. Or lies there. It matters to those of us who value the English language, but not to many others. Like this film.

The film’s sexbomb/naïf is Beth (Hall), who escapes from being an on-call stripper in Florida to her dream – working in Las Vegas. She’s already got the wardrobe to be a cocktail waitress.

In Vegas, she stumbles into the path of Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis), a professional – and married – gambler for whom she goes to work. But while she becomes a valued part of Dink’s number-crunching operation, she arouses the womanly suspicions of Dink’s jealous wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

(And really, what is with these names? Dink and Tulip Heimowitz? Tell me you could open that holiday card and not laugh.)

Because of Tulip’s suspicions, Dink has to fire Beth, who winds up working for one of Dink’s competitors, Rosie (Vince Vaughn), who recognizes Beth’s grasp of the business – but also her gullibility. He has a scheme but not the money – but no fear about bluffing. And she’s in the middle of it.

And who cares? The gambling talk sounds either too detailed or too simplistic. More to the point, Hall’s Beth hardly seems the kind of brain-trust who would become the whiz-kid gambler she seemingly turns into.

I understand what Frears is going for – the adrenaline rush of major-stakes gambling tagged to the unbalanced mental state caused by marital trials. Big risk, big rush – big collapse, if you lose. But beyond that, “Lay the Favorite” doesn’t have much to say and gives this cast too little to work with.

You want “Lay the Favorite” to be better. And if wishes were horses…

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