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Lay The Favourite

Lay the Favourite

Released 22 June 2012
Director Stephen Frears

Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta Jones, Vince Vaughan, Joshua Jackson
Writer(s) D.V. DeVincentis

Anthony Bregman, D.V.DeVincentis, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Paul Trijbits
Origin United States, United Kingdom
Running Time 93 minutes
Genre Comedy
Rating 15A

Safe bet.

Las Vegas is historically a pretty exciting place to be in the movies; home to the Rat Pack, the Wolf Pack, hallucinating Gonzo journalists and countless heroes betting it all on that last hand. The reality is a little more mundane; it’s all novelty margarita glasses and one cent slots. Based on a true to life memoir, Lay the Favourite is firmly rooted in the real gambling scene in Las Vegas where schlubby middle aged men manipulate the odds of sporting events and hardly ever set foot in a casino. As such, the film has the ring of truth to it. Unfortunately what it gains in realism it loses in excitement.

Lay the Favourite is based on the memoir of a woman named Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall). When working as a small town stripper becomes too much for her, Beth heads to Vegas with the modest dream of working as a cocktail waitress. Instead, she falls in with a professional gambler called Dink (Bruce Willis), taking sporting bets and manipulating the odds to win big bucks. Surprisingly, it turns out that the ditsy Beth actually has quite a head for numbers and soon she is Dink’s lucky charm, much to the disapproval of his wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). When Dink sees Beth becoming too attached to him, he fires her and Beth ends up working on the wrong side of the law with the less than trustworthy Rosie (a ridiculous Vince Vaughan).

Raymer’s picaresque memoir was praised on its release but it seems that much has been lost in translation from the page to screen thanks to D.V. DeVincentis pedestrian screenplay and safe, if competent direction from Stephen Frears. Despite the high stakes world it’s set within, there is a distinct lack of incident or risk in the narrative, which wanders around before culminating in a damp squib of an ending. Thank heavens for Rebecca Hall then, who keeps our interest ticking over with her exuberant and very uncharacteristic performance as Beth. She throws herself into the role, making a lively contrast with Willis’ usual squinting stoicism. This odd couple work well together but are let down by the general air of aimlessness that hangs over the script.

A fine but forgettable watch, I suspect the film won’t make it onto anyone’s list of favourites. Having said that, Hall just about saves it from being a worthless gamble.

- Linda O’Brien