Sundance Journal: ‘Lay the Favorite’

Some films make it into the Sundance festival each year based solely on their star power. Instead of being competition films, these fall into the Premieres category. ‘Lay the Favorite’ is the best example of a star-driven Premiere that has absolutely no business being part of Sundance. In fact, it’s so bad that it doesn’t even belong in theaters. This is direct-to-DVD material.

‘Lay the Favorite’ stars a fit and scantily clad Rebecca Hall as an airhead who’s tired of stripping for money. The first 15 minutes of the film is actually pretty funny, as her character’s bimbo nature convinces her to move to Las Vegas to achieve her dream career as a cocktail waitress. Up until she actually gets to Vegas, the film is amusing – but then we get into the plot.

Once in Sin City, her newfound hooker friends (including Laura Prepon) introduce her to a legal bookie-esque gambler (Bruce Willis). It turns out that her air-filled head is capable of understanding the mathematics behind gambling, and she becomes one of his best agents. Of course, she begins to fall for him – which his fragile wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) isn’t happy about.

The entire movie is filled with disconnected episodes of mundane drama. She likes him, but he loves his wife and won’t give in to her advances. He fires her. Then rehires her. Then fires her again. So she moves to New York City and works for an illegal bookie there (Vince Vaughn). Then she moves to Curacao and leaves her boyfriend (Joshua Jackson) to do her bookmaking in NYC. The movie is filled with so many ridiculously fluffy subplots that there isn’t a coherent story at the root of it.

In the beginning, ‘Lay the Favorite’ is a 4-star comedy. Then it turns into a 2-star mainstream theatrical release. It ends in the category of 1-star director-to-video garbage. It’s bad. Very very bad. One of the worst films I’ve ever seen at Sundance. Despite loving Hall and Willis, nothing can save this movie. It’s a disaster.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

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