The usually buttoned-up Stephen Frears’ unhooks the neck-tightening top button from its thread hole to make a slightly less shameful version of “Showgirls”, where the boobs are substituted for bookies.
A gambling dramedy, complete with the young wannabe-older mentor relationship subplot (that’s merely hinted, never followed through), the golden-strip set flick fixes on a young woman (a cute-a-as-a-button Rebecca Hall) who escapes her life as a private dancer to ultimately become a (very successful) sports bookie in Vegas. She doesn’t hide the fact she’s as into her new job as she is her kindly, older mentor (Bruce Willis) and employer, much to the chargin of his imperious ‘jinx’ wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Sounds alright, yeah? Well, it’s after setting up that reasonably interesting premise though that the film starts slacking off. Characters aren’t further developed (the Zeta-Jones character, for one, becomes more-or-less a hot prop. Is she good? evil? We never really know – she’s just… there) and the plot is all but forgotten about, replaced by a cheesy ‘gotta win this bet’ finale and somewhat of a quick dash for the finish line so everything can be neatly wrapped-up. It’s almost as is Frears’ – a top-tier director, having helmed such weighty fare as “The Queen” and “The Grifters”- walked out half-way through production and left it in the incapable hands of a Vegas hotel concierge to complete the movie.
The appeal the movie does encompass lays largely with the cast. A fun but forgettable (it’s not going to do much for her rising statue; no harm, no foul) performance by Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) with an interesting turn by Bruce Willis as a likeable, veteran gambler , and fun supporting turns by the likes of Vince Vaughn, Frank Grillo, Corbin Bernsen and Josh Jackson, could’ve helped “Favorite” defy the odds at the box-office… had the story supported the performances. With the film’s emphasis waiving from Hall’s cute butt to the constantly changing numbers on a sports betting screen, the film will struggle to convince punters they need to see this on the big screen. And, truth is, they don’t.
With the recognised route of Verhoeven’s cult classic firmly fixed into the flick’s navigation system, and Rebecca Hall playing a ditzy singer cum Vegas wannabe (evoking memories of a pool splashing, pole cavorting Elizabeth Berkley), it’ll be hard for “Laying the Favorite” – despite the fact it’s based on a bio- to escape the “Showgirls” comparisons. But with its more credible performances and sturdier script, it’s unarguable that Frear’s film definitely embodies a higher IQ than its dancing-girly-in-Vegas predecessor. But not by much. In fact, I longed for a crazy pool-hump scene.