After the dull Chéri and the uneven Tamara Drewe, the generally reliable Stephen Frears appears to be in something of a slump. Unfortunately, his frivolous, superficial adaptation of Lay the Favorite, Beth Raymer’s memoir about her path from stripper to bookie isn’t going to change that trend.
Rebecca Hall plays Beth Raymer, a private exotic dancer craving more excitement in her life. With the blessing of her father (Corbin Bernsen), Raymer leaves Tallahassee Florida for the bright lights of Las Vegas. Eventually, Beth finds work as an assistant to Dink (Bruce Willis), a famous high-stakes gambler working a huge network of events and sportsbooks, who needs someone he can trust to move large amounts of cash. Dink likes her enthusiasm, but even as she proves herself adept with numbers, Beth comes off sounding like a ditz, much to the chagrin of Dink’s wife, Tulip (Zeta-Jones). Dink finds himself torn between making his wife happy and keeping his current good luck charm around. Meanwhile, Beth has to deal with volatile personality, which depends largely on his gambling results. At the same time, she takes a shot at love with a journalist named Jeremy (Joshua Jackson).
In time, Beth ends up in New York working for a fast-talking bookie named Rosie (Vince Vaughn), who happens to be just the kind of guy Dink warned her to avoid. Rosie puts Beth in charge of his new offshore facility in Curaçao (yes, the Caribbean island), where bookmaking is legal. Nonetheless, Beth already feels like her life is spinning out of control. When one of her clients, Greenberg (John Carroll Lynch), threatens her with legal action after he suffers a big loss, Beth must turn to the man who got her started in the gambling business for help.
Much of Lay the Favorite consists of characters screeching—at each other or TV screens, when their not placing their umpteenth bet. Nearly every line meant to be a zinger falls flat and the characters are largely dull. The females are portrayed as bimbos and the men are money hungry dweebs. Bruce Willis’ Dink comes off the best, with his well positioned droll demeanor, while Vince Vaughn nearly steals every scene he’s in with a manic personality. Hall tries her best to make the real Beth shine through, despite a series of not so funny lines, but Zeta-Jones’s performance as a ill tempered woman partial to face-lifts borders on embarrassing.
Lay the Favorite had the potential to be a moderately interesting underdog story, but poor execution, so much so, I have to wonder if Stephen Frears heart was really in this one makes this film forgettable.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a good one, if a bit inconsistent. Finer detail and clarity are solid throughout the presentation, but black levels vary. While one shot will appear a bit hazy, another will look well balanced, all within the same scene. Dark scenes can occasionally appear a bit noisy and shadows will occasionally appear browner than gray or black. On just a couple of occasions, colors appear more oversaturated.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a fairly decent one. The sounds of Vegas and James Seymour Brett’s score are given some nice surround activity. Sadly, it is obvious that quite a bit of the dialogue here is ADR (re-recorded after the fact). Many viewers will likely notice the raised clarity and lack of atmosphere in these segments.
English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Special features are minimal:
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 7:41) Eleven in all: Outside Darren’s House, Beth & Holly at the Café, Best Job Ever, What’re You Doing?, Don’t Get Old, Beth Phones Dad, New York Is Hot, Beth & Jeremy, Beth Calls Rosie, Beth Visits Doctor, Dink’s Voicemail.