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Blame Lucky on those late-night TV appearances of classic Ealing Studios comedies, especially The Ladykillers (1955) with Alec Guinness as a criminal “mastermind” determined to kill a sweet old lady only things never go as planned. It must look so easy to mix light, witty comedy with murderous intent. It isn’t.
Tom Hanks and the Coen Bros. disastrously tried to remake The Ladykillers a while back and now director Gil Cates Jr. and his writing partner Kent Sublette, along with Hanks’ son Colin, attempt to recapture the spirit of those old Ealing comedies with Lucky. Only they’re not — lucky, that is.
It’s a question of tone, first and foremost. It’s also a matter of finding a way to cast murder and mayhem as ordinary, mundane events as if these horrors take place in an alternative universe where blood on a blouse is more disturbing than a body in the living room.
Lucky does have one thing going for it and that’s a spirited performance by the young and beautiful actress Ari Graynor. Given the conflicting motivations, emotions and objectives her director and writer hand to her, at no time can an audience member clearly state what she is playing. Let’s just say she plays moral and emotional confusion so very well.
The same cannot be said for the other actors, who through no fault of their own make little sense of the black comedy. It’s a guess but somehow serial killers, especially those specializing in murdering young women, don’t seem all that funny. Little old ladies who refuse to die do.
The film, dreamed up by former Syracuse University buddies Cates and Sublette, stems from a premise that perhaps sounds better than it plays: What would happen if a serial killer won the lottery? Hard to say what would happen since that high concept gets mixed in with several others.
Such as, what would happen if a young woman has rejected a man all his life only to marry him the minute he wins the lottery? Or what would happen if a wife got wind that her husband is a serial killer but wants to hang on to the marriage just a bit longer, waiting for a big check to come in?
There are too many high concepts here without enough attention paid to tone. Consequently, the script is plodding and unbelievable at every turn and Cates’ direction lacks the sly wit — that wink to the audience, if you will — that can turn outrage into outrageousness.
Hanks’ Benjamin Keller didn’t really buy that $36 million-winning Iowa lottery ticket. It actually belongs to the dead blonde woman in his closet. It seems Benjamin has a bad habit of killing blondes that resemble the object of his desire, Graynor’s Lucy St. Martin. She has known Ben since kindergarten — and wants nothing to do with him.
However, now that he is rich by means she couldn’t possibly know, she suddenly sees him in a new light. They’re married within two months but on their Hawaiian honeymoon those old urges claim him — and a blonde hotel maid. Unbeknownst to Ben though, Lucy witnesses his attack only, strangely, she says nothing and acts as his silent accomplice. Upon return to their small town, she literally digs up more remains of her husband’s indiscretions. Then she reburies them. Say what?
The movie has produced few laughs up to this point but from here on distaste is the more likely audience reaction. She digs up rotting cadavers and transports the bodies in the family SUV to their new backyard for reburial? Really? Why?
No, never mind why, please explain why any of this is remotely funny.
Graynor goes after her character like a force of nature. She’s never less than appealing even when doing things appalling. However, Hanks strikes out with his sullen nebbish bit. It doesn’t play. Shouldn’t a serial killer have a more forceful personality?
Ann-Margret does what she can with Ben’s mother, who may or may not be aware of her son’s “problem,” while the wonderful Jeffrey Tambor, as a bird-phobic police detective, doesn’t have quite enough screen time to develop a character that might well have fit into an old Ealing comedy.
Cinematographer Darren Genet and production designer Frank J. Zito III try to finesse the tricky screenplay (and modest budget) with arresting visual settings while John Swilhart’s overly perky score struggles to convince you to laugh.
Opens: July 15 (Phase 4 Films)
Production companies: A Ten/Four Pictures/Mirabelle Pictures production
Cast: Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, Ann-Margret, Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Amandes, Adam J. Harrington, Allison Mackie
Director: Gil Cates Jr.
Screenwriter: Kent Sublette
Story by: Gil Cates Jr., Kent Sublette
Producers: Caitlin Murney, Gil Cates Jr.
Executive producers: Anthony Gudas, Matthew Chausse
Director of photography: Darren Genet
Production designer: Frank J. Zito III
Music: John Swilhart
Costume designer: Amanda Riley
Editor: George Plotkin
Rating R, 103 minutes
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