Bruce Willis is basically in every movie now. He will literally do anything and everything, and he must say no to nothing. Die Hard movies be damned, Bruce is like Christopher Walken without all of the enduring goodwill. In Lay the Favorite, Bruce plays a professional Las Vegas gambler named Dink who bets on a little bit of everything but really gets his rocks off for huge sports wagers. This is a typical throwaway Bruce Willis type of movie, which aims to be comedic but lands squarely in the land of tedium. Willis actually does a fine job with his savvy yet compulsive character who swerves from reserved to anger-filled moments with the ups and downs of his profession, but the problem is that this movie’s story is so pointless that is just hard to give him any recognition at all for failing to read a fucking script before he signs onto a project.
Director Stephen Frear (High Fidelity, The Grifters) falls hard from relative grace here while he helms a “true story” based upon Beth Raymer’s memoir. In this movie, Beth is portrayed by Rebecca Hall, who I guess needed a change from respectable movies and decided to play a clichéd stripper (with a heart of ____). After shaking her tittays in a small Floridian town fails to pay the bills, Beth decides to pack it all up and move to Vegas, baby, where she hopes to rise to the title of “cocktail waitress.” She makes a friend named Holly (Laura Prepon, whose miraculous appearance in a movie is the only reason to mention her character in this review), who teaches Beth a thing or two about Sin City. Beth’s not really in town to make friends though, so on her way to the top, she makes acquaintance with Dink, who realizes that Beth is actually quite brainy (even though she acts pretty dumb) and good with numbers, so he hires her on at his operation where she mightily succeeds and brings much financial reward not only to herself but her slightly pervy boss too. Naturally, Dink’s wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), isn’t thrilled about her husband’s new protege and, eventually, Beth gets fired as a result. Sad face.
Various other unimportant characters enter the plot at various points to no big gain or loss. Joshua Jackson plays an earnest journalist named Jeremy who hooks up with Beth to the point where she follows him to New York. Vince Vaughn is Rosie, a fast-talking (what other kind is there for Vince?) NYC bookie who also instantly recognizes Beth’s monetary wizardry. Unfortunately, Rosie doesn’t run the legal kind of gambling entity, which brings about some faux drama and a contrived climax as Vaughn and Beth and everyone else just shouts shouting towards the camera towards the end of the movie.
There’s plenty of talent to be found in Lay the Favorite, but it’s all wasted on a perpetual string of nothingness. Zeta-Jones actually manages to infuse her character with some hidden warmth despite the fact that she’s playing a total, plastic surgery-addicted shrew. Vince Vaughn tries to be “money” here but fails, which (sadly) is nothing new these days. As for Bruce Willis, well, I don’t expect any better of him than this movie. Again, he does what he can with the part, but the dude just needs to be better at picking roles. Hall is generally a lovely, understated actress who portrays reserved and ultimately likable characters. Here, she seems to be purposely playing against type, which would be just fine under other, less insufferable circumstances. Her Beth is a ditzy, high-pitched squeaker who provides no shortage of eye-rolls and annoyance to the audience. She aims to be whimsical, lighthearted, and energetic here but comes off a lot like Anne Hathaway hosting the Oscars.
Yes, the experience of watching Lay the Favorite is just as exhausting as it sounds. One learns nothing about the life of a Vegas virgin who swiftly (and with very little effort or reason) moves from stripper to waitress to high-stakes bookie — this movie fails to explain how Beth succeeds beyond repeatedly assuring other characters of her competence. There’s no evidence to back up any of her professional achievements, and further, it’s tough to give a shit about Beth’s personal life either when she’s not exactly the kind of person one would choose to hang around with in real life. Why does Lay the Favorite subject its audience to this woman’s journey while also failing to convince us that the trip is worth it? Skip this movie and go ride the gondolas at The Venetian instead.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.