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Is it 2019 or 1995?
That’s the question viewers may ask when watching Roger Avary’s total throwback of a gonzo action comedy, Lucky Day, which feels very much like a project the Pulp Fiction co-writer and Killing Zoe director dusted off the shelf a few decades too late.
Familiar for anyone who basked in the work of Avary and his former cohort, Quentin Tarantino, when they hit movie gold in the mid-’90s, this tale of an ex-con, his girlfriend, their adorable daughter and the nutso hit man trying to take them all out is eye-rollingly recognizable, from the retro rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack to the splashes of giddy gore to the fact that the two female leads sport bob haircuts from the film that earned Avary an Oscar.
Generic and too self-indulgent, if energetic and occasionally funny, the film’s greatest attribute is by far co-star Crispin Glover, who steals the show as a deranged French-speaking assassin named Luc Chaltier — a crazy invention of a killer who, among other things, slices a hipster’s throat and runs him over twice with his car, turns an art gallery of overdressed snobs into a Jackson Pollock bloodbath and, because why not, tosses a condom filled with his own semen at a bartender before shooting him in the face.
Glover’s presence pretty much saves the movie from dying a quick and conventional death, which is what Lucky Day has done thus far for its release in France. (The film grossed less than $100K after two weeks on screen there.). Lionsgate will roll it out in the U.S. both theatrically and digitally in mid-October.
The setup is pulp simple: Red (Luke Bracey), a safecracker fresh off a two-year prison sentence, comes home to Chloe (Nina Dobrev), his Gallic “honeybun,” as he calls her (in one of many nods to Pulp Fiction), and their daughter, Beatrice (Ella Ryan Quinn), for a little loving and R&R. Instead, he finds himself at the tail end of bounty hunter Luc’s relentless pursuit to avenge the death of his brother, who was killed by cops when Red’s armed robbery went awry — or is that Avary?
Cutting systematically back and forth between Luc and Red until the two finally square off in the last act, with Chloe and Beatrice caught in the crossfire, the film heads exactly where you expect it to and doesn’t take any shame in it. In fact, the linear, bare-bones plot seems more like a pretext to give Avary ample time to indulge in his many guilty pleasures.
These include over-the-top Francophilia (see: Killing Zoe), with a cast of non-French actors blurting out French dialogue for no clear reason (though note that the film was produced by Gallic action guru Samuel Hadida) ; over-the-top gruesome violence, including a scene where a decapitated body jiggles around to Charles Aznavour’s variété classic “Les Comédiens”; and some overtly tasteless stabs at sex humor, such as an early scene where Chloe complains to Red about “the full liter” he left after they make love following his release from jail.
The movie feels dated in more ways than one, as if it were made in a time warp when boys could be boys and women more or less the pretty little things that keep them going. And whereas Tarantino’s work has evolved — or devolved, according to certain critics — into something embracing larger swaths of film history, Avary seems stuck right where he wants to be in the pop culture meta-smorgasbord of the 1990s, dipping into references (including from his own work — Chloe is basically a fusion of the Uma Thurman and Maria de Medeiros characters from Pulp) and music cues galore.
Still, if anyone’s going to get that Tarantino-esque vibe right, it might as well be one of the guys who invented it, and Avary delivers his select brand of snappy dialogue, cartoonish characters and cutthroat comic brutality with a sure hand. In some ways, you could say the writer-director is at the top of his game, but who else is playing it now but him?
Performances are lively all around, though Glover is so magnificently off his rocker — in one riotous scene, he uses a jacked-up muscle car to flatten a cop into a pancake — that he’ll probably be the only thing about Lucky Day that people even remember. If ’90s nostalgia also means giving actors like Glover their due, then it may just be worth it.
Production companies: Avary International Pictures, Davis Films, DCP Inc.
Cast: Luke Bracey, Nina Dobrev, Crispin Glover, Ella Ryan Quinn, Clé Bennet, Clifton Collins Jr.
Director-screenwriter: Roger Avary
Producers: Don Carmody, Samuel Hadida
Executive producer: Gala Avary, Victor Hadida
Director of photography: Brendan Steacy
Production designer: Aidan Leroux
Costume designer: Brenda Shenher
Casting director: Deirdre Bowen
Rated R, 99 minutes
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