‘Lay the Favorite’ is the worst bet in the movie house

Rebecca Hall stars opposite Bruce Willis in 'Lay the Favorite'
Rebecca Hall stars opposite Bruce Willis in ‘Lay the Favorite’

Lay the Favorite is a gambling term.  It is also the title of a memoir by a real-life woman named Beth Raymer that is now a film from director Stephen Frears and screenwriter D.V. DeVincentis.  If that sounds like a familiar pairing, it should.  They combined to bring Nick Hornsby’s excellent novel “High Fidelity” to the big screen.  That was an excellent collaboration.

Sadly, this was not.

“Beth” (Hall) is working as an in-home private dancer and modeling for an adult website while living near her father in Tallahassee when she decides she needs a change.  She moves to Las Vegas to be a cocktail waitress, a decision her father “Jerry” (Bernsen) approves of.

Upon arrival she is told the only way to get one of those coveted jobs is grab the tray of one of the incumbents as she retires or dies (that’s not true but it sounded good).  She’s also advised that “Flip-It” (a game where you put quarters or dollars into a slot and a mechanism flips your coin into the air, hopefully to knock other coins already in the machine down) is a game for suckers.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in 'Lay the Favorite'
Catherine Zeta-Jones in ‘Lay the Favorite’

She’s staying at a seedy motel and “Holly” (Prepon), her neighbor, puts her in touch with “Dink” (Willis).  Dink is a gambler, not a bookie, and he uses runners to pick up and drop off cash and to make bets around town, as well as making bets by phone to off-shore sports betting operations.  It is all legal and Dink is successful at it.  Turns out that Beth has a real knack for this.  She also starts getting attached to Dink and that’s a problem for his wife, “Tulip” (Zeta-Jones).  Soon she’s been fired and is about to head off to New York City with “Jeremy” (Jackson), a guy she’s just met, when Dink comes back for her.  He thinks she is his good luck charm and Beth sends Jeremy off without her.

But soon she’s on the phone asking Jeremy if it is alright for her to come to NYC because she and Dink have had another falling out.  He agrees and soon she’s there and looking for something to do.  That’s where “Rosie” (Vaughn) comes in.  She met him at Dink’s house and he is a bookie.  That’s illegal in NYC, but he plans to start an off-shore operation of his own in Curacao.

The third act is how Beth’s choice to work with/for Rosie may come back to haunt both her and Jeremy, how Dink manages to deal with his reversals of fortune, and it’s all wrapped up nicely and neatly at the finish.  However by this time it’s very difficult to care about anyone but possibly Jeremy as none of these characters have much in the way of redeeming features.  Beth learned some good lessons from Dink and Rosie but whether or not they made her a better person is unclear.

A terrifically talented cast goes to waste in this yawner.  Throughout the last 30 minutes I was wishing I’d gone to a different film playing in the next auditorium.  I’d heard bad things about this but based on the prior pairing of Frears and DeVincentis I gave this a chance.

I should have bet against it.

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