Dir. Stephen Frears, USA/UK, 2012, 83 mins
Review by Carol Allen
The title refers to a betting term and the film is based on the memoirs of Beth Raymer about her time working in the gambling industry in Las Vegas.
Tired of scraping a sleazy living as a private dancer in Tallahassee, Beth (Hall) relocates to Las Vegas, where she is introduced to Dink (Willis), who offers her a job in his gambling business. She and Dink hit it off big time – she has a good head for figures and she brings home the winners, becoming Dink’s good luck charm. All is going well until she falls for Dink and falls foul of his possessive and insecure wife Tulip (Zeta Jones) and Dink has to sack her. Beth heals her broken heart with a new love, Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) and goes off to New York with him, where she works for another gambler, “Rosie” Roseman (Vince Vaughan). That job however brings her and Jeremy up against the law, gambling being illegal in New York, and Beth has to call on Dink and Tulip, who has now become an ally, to get her out of trouble.
The UK audience may well get a bit lost in the maze of US gambling laws, which differ from state to state, and indeed the arcane nature of the betting business itself. I still have no idea for example what exactly is involved in “laying the favourite”. This is a very American story, and initially it seems a bit of an odd choice for the director of The Queen to make, until you remember that Frears did rather a good job with the Jim Thompson story The Grifters years ago and indeed with the relocation of Nick Hornby’s very British tale High Fidelity to Chicago. Peter Hall’s daughter Rebecca might also seem perverse casting for Beth, who is such an American character.
Yet it is the British talent and Frears’ eye for the detail of human behaviour and skill in getting engaging performances from actors, which make this story almost work. Hall, with her flashing grin and a selection of super skimpy outfits which show off her long legs, gives Beth a vulnerable charisma and Zeta Jones (who still counts as British even though she now lives in America) gives an interesting performance as poor Tulip, who has gambled with one face lift too many. If you’ve ever thought of going under the knife, ladies, the scene where we see Tulip’s battered and bruised face after the op will put you off the idea big time.
Perhaps because it’s based on a real life story rather than a Hollywood formula, the plot avoids a lot of the Hollywood clichés, as in the fact that Dink and Beth do not fall into bed together, as he actually still loves his somewhat odd, doll like wife. And it’s one of the rare occasions in a film, where you actually see someone pay for a taxi. There’s also an amusing contribution from Wayne Peré and Frank Grillo as Dink’s sidekicks in the business.
The film though advertises itself as a comedy and it’s only occasionally funny. And if you’re not well up on gambling terms and fascinated by that world, the amount of screen time devoted to that activity actually makes some of it a bit boring, Had it been made in America with totally American talent, I doubt it would have got anything more here than a DVD release.