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THE DAILY UPDATE AT THE MOVIES: LAY THE FAVOURITE

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis, Joshua Jackson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Vince Vaughan

In cinemas June 22nd.

The words “based on a true story” always strike fear into my heart when I see them related to movies. While many people have written books about their exploits that have become bestsellers and struck a chord with the public, not all of these stories translate well to the big screen. Let’s face it – for every Goodfellas or 127 Hours there is a Fair Game or Taking Woodstock.

This is based on the experiences of Beth Raymer who, before returning to college and turning her hand to writing, worked in both the legal and illegal worlds of sports gambling. Director Frears has assembled a stellar cast for the production and there is no doubting that Raymer has had a fascinating life. Unfortunately however, the film falls into the Fair Game and Taking Woodstock ilk, due mainly to the overburdening of the audience with jargon that seems to take up most of the film.

It opens with Beth (Hall) hoping to land a job as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. Unable to secure work, a friend suggests that she apply for a job with Dink (Willis) whose business involves placing bets across the board to affect the odds of the game/horse/person/whatever he is betting on and therefore give him the maximum return on his main stake. At least I think that’s what he did as from this point onwards the film becomes pretty bogged down in gambling terminology that only a truly seasoned veteran of the bookies will understand.

Anyhow, Beth develops a crush on Dink, much to the chagrin of his wife Tulip (a horrendously underused Zeta Jones) and he fires her. Depressed and alone, she meets Jeremy (Jackson) in a casino. After a brief fling she ends up living with him in New York and working for Dink’s nemesis Rosie (Vaughan) who is rather liberal when it comes to adhering to gambling laws and sets up his own bookies in Curacao. When one of the clients she introduces Rosie to won’t pay up and claims that he has the Feds on his back Beth is forced to call on Dink and Tulip to help her out of her self-made mess which could see her and everyone she cares about go to jail for a long time.

There are some truly interesting characters here. Dink and Tulip are fascinating and Beth herself has had many intriguing experiences. The problem is that none of them are ever given a chance to develop and, as such, you don’t really care about them. Hall gives a decent performance as Beth but the character is so unlikeable and selfish that rather than rooting for her you can’t help feeling that she deserves what she gets. Zeta Jones shines as Tulip, the insecure wife who worries her husband is losing interest in her, however she gets very little screen time. Also her character seems to undergo a personality transplant half way through the film as she suddenly decides to help out her former nemesis Beth. This sudden change in attitude is never really explained and it is almost as if there are several scenes missing which would shed light on it.

All in all this is a bit of a mess with gaping plot holes, not enough focus on the characters and a weak script. Also, most people outside of America won’t have a clue about many of the sports referenced in the film. Since this is based on a real person who had real experiences this should have been a character driven movie rather than a plot driven one and as such it fails.

There are moments where this is hugely entertaining but they are far too thin on the ground. If you have a basic knowledge of gambling you may enjoy this but for those who don’t, some of the betting scenes are headache inducing since the terminology is thrown around so quickly. If this was made for a TV channel such as Lifetime or True Movies it would be decent enough but as a big screen offering it falls at the final furlong!

 

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