CIFF Review: Lay the Favorite

I still don’t know what the title “Lay the Favorite” means. It’s a term used by bookies and gamblers to bet against the odds, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s empty fast-talking, it’s not memorable and it’s not funny. I keep thinking the movie is called “Pay it Forward” or something because everything about this movie is generic, forgettable and tepid.

It’s a disappointing, personality-less comedy from the otherwise interesting Stephen Frears and this dynamic cast. Rebecca Hall, who is usually womanly and relatable, here plays Beth, an air-headed stripper from Tallahassee with ambitions to be a cocktail waitress in Vegas. Her talents include twirling her hair, being chipper and wide-eyed and wearing Daisy Dukes, but in an instant she lands a folksy and wise best friend with a Southern accent and a job at Dink Inc.

The company is called Dink Inc. because Dink sounds like dick and it allows the movie to repeatedly say Dink Inc. The owner of Dink Inc. is of course Dink (Bruce Willis), a professional gambler who briefly explains the ropes to Beth and offers her $20 an hour.

The movie is about always being trustworthy in an untrustworthy business, and so she is. Willis acts sunny around her and she falls in love with him as a father figure, but she’s fired when Dink’s wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) gets jealous.

Beth goes to New York with a boy toy (Joshua Jackson) she met hours earlier, makes it big with another bookie (Vince Vaughn), gets into some trouble and later lives happily ever after.

It’s a movie without stakes, which is bad for a movie about gambling. There’s no chemistry, nothing interesting about these characters, no reason to care for them and nothing funny about their dialogue. The Vegas gamblers all have this dopey mobster mentality and thick accent, as if talking fast and tough makes it so.

“Lay the Favorite” is an empty, lightweight film that could’ve come from anyone. What makes me so disappointed by it was that it was the secret screening at the Chicago International Film Festival. Anticipating “Lincoln,” “Life of Pi,” “Les Miserables” or even just “Skyfall,” I can’t even express how much of a let down this was.

2 stars


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