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The participation of director Stephen Frears and a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Zeta-Jones should guarantee a theatrical release, right? Sorry, but no – LAY THE FAVORITE is the movie and it’s gone straight to Redbox (and other home-viewing options) which is a shame because it’s a fun, if lightweight comedy set in the world of Las Vegas grifters and gamblers.


Hall plays Beth Raymer, who leaves her dancing job at a Florida strip club to become a Las Vegas cocktail waitress. Not exactly an ideal career choice, but her borderline-ditzy personality doesn’t give her many options. In walks Dink (Willis), a professional sports bettor who sees through her bubbly exterior and offers her a job placing wagers all over town to gain an advantage over the casinos. Her surprisingly impeccable mind for numbers soon cements her status as Dink’s good-luck charm, until his gorgeous-but-frigid wife, Tulip (Zeta-Jones), starts to get jealous. Faced with no other choice but to fire Beth, Dink’s luck runs out when she heads to New York to work for a smarmy bookie (Vaughn), a turn of events that lands her squarely on the wrong side of the law.


One of the best things about LAY THE FAVORITE is the way it takes you into the very specific world of Vegas with its own rules and manners. Based on a memoir by Beth Raymer, the film seems like an insider’s perspective on bookies and gambling, genuine in its jargon, not needing to make shortcuts to accommodate the plot. It’s a clever look at adrenaline junkies and benefits from fine performances. Hall is all sex appeal and smiles as Beth, and the British actress, who usually appears in heavier films, shows a real flair for comedy. Willis plays himself which is okay when the script is good, which it is here. Zeta-Jones has fun with her image, earning honest laughs by exhibiting Tulip’s terribly bruised face and bandaged head while lying in bed after a face-lift. Vaughn is good but his role gets a bit short-changed. The tone of LAY THE FAVORITE is inconsistent. It never seems to quite know what it wants to be, shifting from a sitcommy film about gambling to a high stakes drama to a warm-hearted group hug comedy but it’s got enough laughs to recommend and is a pleasant way to kill 94 minutes.


Here are my thoughts on Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray disc:

The Audio: The 5.1 DTS-HD Master track – Dialogue remains clear, intelligible, and well-prioritized.

The Video: top-notch, warm and clean in the daylight, while night scenes are cool and moody. Dimensionality is terrific, black levels are full and inky, and colorful reproduction is nice and deep, from the neon lights of the Vegas strip to the natural skin tones of the actors. Shadows and contrast are also solid. This is a great-looking disc.

Extras: The only extra is eleven deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut,  most of which add little to the story. The one exception is a nice scene that fleshes out a backstory between Hall and her best friend Holly (Laura Prepon).


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