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Lay the Favorite


This article was published December 21, 2012 at 2:04 a.m.

— Lay the Favorite seems like a safe bet. It’s got some capable performers, and Stephen Frears, the mind behind The Hit, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen, is behind the camera. Curiously, Lay the Favorite performs like an injured Thoroughbred. It’s simply not ready for the race.

It’s based on a true story (Beth Raymer’s memoir of the same title, to be exact). Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be a terribly interesting one, or at least the way D.V. DeVincentis has adapted it.

Raymer (Rebecca Hall), as depicted in the film, is a blue collar girl who decides that stripping in Florida is a dead end, so she tries her luck as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. Shortly after arriving, she discovers that Vegas is a closed shop, but she stumbles into a betting operation run by Dink (Bruce Willis). Considering the fact that he calls his shop Dink Inc., it’s hard not to put a lot of trust in this guy.

Raymer, who until this time comes off like an amiable dingbat, turns out to have a hidden gift for interpreting numbers. More importantly, she has a gift for punctuality and reliability. Those traits are essential for placing shady bets, but apparently those skills are rare in Sin City.

This bit of self-discovery could have been exciting. There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing a person we’ve written off prove themselves worthy before our eyes. Sadly, DeVincentis and Hall never really get a firm grasp on Raymer.

When things start to go sour, in part because of Dink’s jealous wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), it’s hard to care because Raymer seems a little too naive about the dark side of gambling.

When Raymer hooks up with a volatile gambler named Rosie (Vince Vaughn), we can spot the danger signs before she can, so it’s a little hard to empathize with her when his operation goes haywire. Hall, who projects a strong intelligence, seems embarrassed at times in the role.

To be fair to Hall, many of the other key characters are sketchy as well. Zeta-Jones’ Tulip goes from vicious harpy to mother figure with no clear explanation why. It’s hard to understand what these characters see in each other and why they’re still an item. Similarly, Joshua Jackson has a thankless role as Raymer’s innocent, maybe too innocent, boyfriend. Except for the elegant way that Hall fills a denim skirt, it’s hard to imagine how the two fell for each other.

For the most part, watching Lay the Favorite is like watching a game involving teams that you haven’t bet on or couldn’t care less about. Because there’s nothing to invest in, there’s no point in waiting on the return.

Lay the Favorite 77 Cast: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson, Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon, John Carroll Lynch Director: Stephen Frears Rating: R, for language throughout, some sexual content, brief drug use, and nudity Running time: 90 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 39 on 12/21/2012

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