In the closing credits of this film, ditzy, wide-eyed, mini-skirted number savant Beth Raymer -- played here by Rebecca Hall -- is described as having left behind the somewhat sordid, quasi-criminal life of legal-here/not-legal-there gambling and then going "to college" and becoming "a writer," a description that makes it sound like she stumbled into online remedial journaling courses with University of Phoenix before continuing on to get her associate's degree at the local junior college.
The real Beth Raymer earned an MFA at Columbia University, was a Fulbright fellow, has had her work published in The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine, wrote a memoir about working in gambling and has been a writer in residence at The MacDowell Colony. So thanks, movie, glad we had you around to give this interesting woman all the intellectual heft of that girl on Teen Mom who insisted on violating her probation to go see a Ke$ha concert.
Hall wiggles, coos and sighs her way through the role, giving everything she has to a bizarrely written character, generously creating more energy than Stephen Frears' film bothers to match. As Raymer, she forces her way through what is, essentially, a flat sitcom retelling of the writer's journey through the worlds of stripping and gambling, one that feels only marginally less insulting to its protagonist's brainpower than this year's Katherine Heigl disaster One for the Money.
Hired by an old-school Las Vegas bookie named Dink (Bruce Willis), proving her talent and becoming something of his lucky rabbit's foot, Raymer is quickly fired when Dink's jealous wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, also giving it her brassy best) steps in and objects. From there, our heroine is off to New York, where gambling is illegal, to work for lowlife Rosie (Vince Vaughn, mugging like he's being paid per goony expression and clownish outburst) who's building an operation offshore in Curacao. Scrapes ensue. Standoffs arise. Bluffs are called. Sleep beckons.
There's no telling exactly how this project, begun as fascinating memoir, found itself turned inside out into a sad, empty, ugly-looking husk. They usually avoid this sort of topic on DVD commentaries. But it feels like death by a thousand paper cuts, a collective giving up, producer meddling, post-production mangling, anything, or maybe everything, all at once. Hall gets out alive with her dignity. Watching her gamely flail around, trying to carry the film to safety, is half-inspiring, half-depressing, and she deserves an "A" for effort. But the weight of failure is too much in the end. You're watching a performance in search of a movie that deserves it. Fingers should be pointing right about now. At the very least that might be entertaining to watch.