One wonders what the pitch meeting for giving the green light to 'Lay The Favorite' was like. I'm guessing it might have gone something like this: Let's take a popular real-life book about a woman who gets involved in the gambling scene in Las Vegas; add an Academy Award nominated director (Stephen Frears); team him with the screenwriter (D.V. DeVincentis) he used for the cult hit 'High Fidelity;' throw in a bunch of well-known actors like Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn; and sit back and collect the box office… we can't lose. Oh, how ironic that a movie about gambling could turn such a sure thing into a complete bust.
'Lay The Favorite' is pretty much lifeless from beginning to end. I think it's supposed to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh once. I know it's not supposed to be a drama, as all of the characters seem to be comic-strip versions of real-life people, and none can be taken seriously. The film is based on the true story of Beth Raymer (played here by Rebecca Hall), who left her life in Florida as an "at-home" stripper (the kind that comes to you rather than dances in a club) and wound up in Las Vegas working for a gambler named Dink in the sports betting realm.
Dink is played by Bruce Willis, in the latest Willis performance in which he seems to do little more than play himself on screen. One wonders if Bruce simply took the job for a nice payday where he could hang out in Las Vegas, but there are so many other things wrong with the movie that it's hard to place the blame primarily as his feet.
The real issue with 'Lay The Favorite' seems to be with DeVicentis' screenplay, which fails to deliver laughs, and is never serious enough to show viewers the dark side of the gambling underworld. During the course of the movie, Beth leaves Dink and heads off to New York with a newfound boyfriend (played by Joshua Jackson), but she soon finds herself back in the gambling scene with a seedy competitor of Dink's (Vince Vaughn) that Beth was warned not to get involved with. Even worse, gambling is illegal in New York, so she soon finds herself in over her head and has to reach out again to Dink to help avoid exposing herself to the authorities.
The movie concludes with everyone getting involved in a big bet, which of course involves a sports team and a last-second play that will determine the winner. By this point in the movie, most viewers won't care… but if you manage to make it this far, it's worth sticking around to watch Bruce Willis do the twist over the end credits. I kid you not.
If there's a positive I can relay about 'Lay The Favorite,' it's that I think Rebecca Hall gives a decent performance. I'm sure many will be unnerved by her perky attitude and an accent that is somewhere between southern belle and valley girl (keep in mind Ms. Hall is British), but she is really the only true spark of light in this otherwise dismal effort.
'Lay The Favorite' had a limited release in the United States (about 60 theaters) and was pretty much dead on arrival (only about $21,000 total profit), so its home video release will be the first chance most viewers will have to see the movie. After watching it, I can see why it didn't get a harder push in theaters. The studio is no doubt trying to recoup some of its losses with a home video push, but it's a sucker bet - 'Lay The Favorite' is one game you don't want to bother playing.
'Lay The Favorite' was shot digitally, so one would expect a lot of "pop" and clarity in the picture, especially in a movie where one of the primary locations is Las Vegas. Sadly, picture quality is all over the map, not just in different scenes, but often within the same scene.
Some shots are very soft-looking, while others are sharp. Viewers will also notice the same problem with colors. Some shots give the actors an almost washed-out looked, while some shots are properly balanced, and others are oversaturated with color. Take for example one early scene in a casino, where Bruce Willis is wearing an orange T-shirt. In some of the shots, the shirt appears its normal orange, in others it appears to have faded in the dryer, while in a few others it actually appears to be red!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master track is serviceable, but otherwise unremarkable. While dialogue is crisp and clear for the most part, there's little in the way of activity, and even when the rear speakers do kick in for a scene involving a large number of people or a particularly noisy venue, it's barely noticeable. Even the movie's score is a bit subdued. No obvious or apparent glitches, but also no sequences that really show off or immerse you into the film.
Given the talent attached to this movie, 'Lay The Favorite' is easily one of the bigger disappointments I've reviewed in quite some time. Even if you're a fan of the gambling world or films set in Las Vegas, the only real reason to check the film out is if you're a fan or follower of Rebecca Hall's career. However, for the vast majority of potential viewers, the best bet is to just fold. You can skip this quite easily.