Thursday, July 14, 2011

Serial Killers with Money: Lucky

Serial killer Benjamin Keller is no Dexter Morgan. Still, at least he isn’t Casey Anthony, so that's something. He also just hit it big in the lotto, so his childhood crush will try to stick it out with him until the check clears. Their uneasy union represents marriage at its most mercenary and dysfunctional in Gil Cates, Jr.’s Lucky (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

When Lucy St. Martin openly dismisses her childhood friend and lowly coworker, he often finds himself killing someone who looks like her. He happened to grab his latest victim after she bought a fateful lotto ticket that his eagle-eyed but massively in denial mother subsequently notices is a thirty million dollar winner. At first, he is alarmed by the media attention and the possible paper trail to his victim. Of course, he changes his mind when St. Martin is suddenly really, really friendly.

Granted, Lucky’s general premise sounds intriguing, but the execution is so frustratingly hesitant, it never comes close to fulfilling its potential. Frankly, it is unclear whether or not the film was intended as a black comedy. It is also rather problematic when the film invites viewers to identify with Keller, at least on some level. Yet, rather than veering headlong into macabre humor, Lucky seems to lose its nerve at each critical juncture.

Lucky was directed by Gil Cates, Jr., the son of Cates Sr., the director of I Never Sang for My Father probably best known as the longtime Academy Awards ceremony producer. Colin Hanks, son of Tom, is actually rather well cast as the blandly twitchy Keller. Wiki does not identify Ari Graynor’s old man, but hopefully he is loaded, because she is not likely to get to the senior Cates’ show for her work as St. Martin.

Some of the best work comes from Lucky’s small but big named supporting cast. Playing it uncharacteristically restrained, Jeffrey Tambor is still compulsively watchable as Detective Harold Waylon. However, the film’s biggest surprise is a sizable turn from Ann-Margaret, convincingly transforming Keller’s neurotic mother Pauline into a glamorous, well Ann-Margaret.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment of Lucky is that we never get to see Keller let loose his inner Dexter on some humorless state lottery bureaucrats. While the screenplay by Cates, Jr. and Kent Sublette offers up a number of promising bits, the whole never takes flight. It opens tomorrow (7/15) in New York at the Village East.