By Ashley Hillard
Hal Ashby’s 1980 film about a deadbeat dad in Vegas is not a great film, but his struggle with Paramount over the final cut makes it an important one. I attended a panel with stars Jon Voight and Ann-Margret as well as many of the crew that worked with Ashby. They disclosed that Ashby made his own cut of the film and hid it at UCLA in their archives after a struggle with Paramount left Ashby unhappy with the final cut of the film.
The story is sadly close to home for Ashby, as he was not involved in his daughter’s life. The strained relationship is mirrored in Voight’s character, Alex Kovac, relationship with his daughter with Patti Warner (Ann-Margret). Kovac’s daughter is played by Voight’s real life daughter, Angelina Jolie, and it is her first film role. Angelina’s mother Marcheline Bertrand, also makes a cameo. It is interesting that at the film’s core are issues between fathers and their children and Voight and Jolie have had public fights, shining a light on their tattered relationship.
The movie follows Kovac and his friend Jerry Feldman, played by Burt Young, as they head to Vegas to try to pay off loan sharks they owe money to in New York. Feldman is the most interesting character in the film and is the heart of it, but of course Ann-Margret is the beauty. Margret does a lot with a little, playing a prostitute that has found love with a casino owner, but still has feelings for Kovac.
Though there are fun elements in the film, the story is on the weaker side and Voight’s performance is a bit over the top. His scene with Jolie and Margret is the most interesting one in the film because of how much is conveyed without being said directly. Voight shared that Ashby had his relationship with his own daughter in mind when he made the film (Ashby’s daughter attended the screening and panel).
It is a touching and rare behind the scenes look of the struggles that filmmakers have to get their version of their film out to the public. I did not see the original cut, but there was a general consensus by everyone on the panel that Ashby’s cut is much better than the one the studio distributed.
Fans of the original should see the new cut, but as a film on its own, skip it.
Nothing much in the way of extras – unless you count the extended version of the film – but there is a short featurette, “Lookin’ to Get Out: The Cast Looks Back,” in which Jon Voight, Ann-Margret, Burt Young, and co-screenwriter Al Schwartz reminisce about making the movie.