RIORI Vol 3, Installment 23: Donald Petrie’s “Just My Luck” (2006)


5671565_PA_2-3Just-My-Luck


The Players…

Lindsay Lohan and Chris Pine, with Fasion Love, Missi Pyle, Samaire Armstrong, Bree Turner and MacKenzie Vega.


The Story…

Ashley has always been gifted with uncanny luck. Without even trying, everything in her upwardly mobile, cosmopolitan life always ends up on the sunny side. From cinching a crucial deal at her job to landing a date with Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome, she has a lucky streak a mile long.

Jake, however, more easily catches a disease than a cab. Perpetually broke, sh*tty digs, managing a going-nowhere pop band who is fast tiring of his empty promises, Jake is the picture of hard luck. It’s not as if he invites his hardships. They just seem to be waiting for ’round every corner.

It only takes a chance encounter between these two opposites for their fates to swap. And it takes no time for either to get what they so desperately need: a reversal of fortune.

Best of luck to both Ashley and Jake. For better and for worse.


The Rant…

A while back I dissected The Canyons starring Lindsay Lohan. It was a bewildering movie; not good and not outright bad. It fell within the confines of The Standard, but befuddled me so that I couldn’t give it a straight rent it or relent it judgment. A first, maybe an only. One of the aspects of the movie was Lohan’s role, Tara, slashing all ties with her prior movies and “good girl” imagery. Before The Canyons, Lilo specialized in comedies, most with a family-friendly bent. Either to satisfy her muse or forcibly eradicate her connections to kiddie fodder, she enlisted in a Paul Schrader-penned, tawdry, Hollywood murder mystery and git nekkid a lot in the process. Again, wasn’t sure what to make of it all. The movie, not the boobie parts.

I guess it ain’t no big shocker after the lampoon Machete and the mutant giallo I Know Who Killed Me that the girl signed up for The Canyons. I mean, what did you expect her to do with her career? Three more installments of Herbie: Fully Loaded? Even I’d go postal as an actor following that route (look what happened to the two Coreys. Same poop, different scoop). I figure The Canyons was her absolute declaration that her Disney days were over, severed with soft-core.

Suffice to say her acting career took a rough turn—an understatement to say the least—after abandoning the comedy market. Hard to say if it was the questionable “adult” roles or unadulterated street drugs (probably both) that undid her sterling career. One could probably also blame Instagram, but don’t ask me for sure.

*wink*

Still she had a good thing going with those simple comedic films. Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, A Prairie Home Companion, all good and entertaining comedies. Her characters were witty, sardonic and enjoyable as well as minimally cloying and tongue-in-cheek (check out her hosting SNL back in the early 00s. She knew which side of the cradle stank the worse). LiLo was funny, had good timing and being a cutie didn’t hurt none.

Things change (again, the street drug thing).

I am willing to wager that this comedy—most likely final comedy—was impetus for the change of direction. This week’s chucklefest began to show the curtains’ edge fraying, but not for a lack of worthwhile material.

More on that later. Now let’s take a walk with Lohan down the streets of NYC, where her fictional as well as actual fate took a turn. Hard to say if it was for the worse…


Being a single gal in New York, as it’s often said, can be tricky. Ask Carrie Bradshaw. Career can get tough. Lots of smarmy, wolfy guys on the prowl. Expenses up the ass. The stress of merely catching a cab could make the most of composed women tear their coppery hair out.

Ashley Albright (Lohan) never has to worry about anything, nabbing a ride or otherwise. The ley lines of the universe always converge beneath her Calvin Klein boots, found on sale at Macy’s forgotten on the bargain rack at 75% off. The sun always shines on her shoulders. She has a flash, rent-controlled apartment (hard to find in the City after Nixon was elected). She’s the rising star at her job at a posh ad agency. And to her friends’ amazement, uncannily adept at scratch-off lottery tickets. Life’s a lucky breeze for Ashley.

Jake Hardin (Pine), on the other hand, just catches bus fumes. Always behind in rent. First to have a pigeon sh*t on him on a cloudless day, only soon to commence pissing down rain, soaking his tearing, Salvo clothes. His dream job managing an up-and-coming rock band always taking a backseat to plunging toilets as his “backup” job at the local bowling alley. Yep, Jake is bad luck personified, rusty horseshoes continuously clunking down on his head. You know what they say, it could get worse. Jake’s just waiting for the worse to let up and let the worst to drop in on his miserable life.

Still, Jake maintains hope. He has the utmost assuredness that his band, McFly, can really go places. All he and they need is some representation with muscle.

Enter music mogul Damon Phillips (Love), the most powerful producer in the City.

Wait. Enter Ashley first.

Much to her boss’, esteemed ad exec Peggy Braden’s (Pyle) delight, Ashley spun some of her infallible, lucky wheeler-dealing and snagged Phillips as a premier client. How? Why not a big masquerade ball? A bash of who’s who before anyone know who’s who? Perfect! Phillips loves it, and Ashley is vaulted from her cubicle to a private office with a company credit card! Let fortune shine!

Such a big party does not go unnoticed, so now enter Jake. If Phillips is there, Jake might be able to score McFly a deal by sneaking the big guy a demo and set them all on the track to the big time. Just so long Jake’s bad luck doesn’t intervene. And he has a quick dalliance with New York’s luckiest woman. And saves Phillips from an accident. And…and…and…

And is that a limo to drive Jake back to his new, luxury apartment?

Meanwhile, Ashley breaks the heel of her pump. And nearly chokes. And gets sh*tcanned.

It only gets better from there…


So Lohan scored well as a comedic actress. She had a good thing going. Fluffy sure, but a good thing nonetheless.

But the world of comedy has a fickle audience. What got belly laughs in the Andrew “Dice” Clay 80s gave way to sardonic observations in the Jerry Seinfeld 90s lead to the obnoxious, goofiness in the Dane Cook 00s. Comedy is always in flux, and the audience is always changing. Opinions if not core interests. What flew then may flop now.

I’m not saying that Luck was unfunny outright, nor was Lohan missing her comic spark. Also, there are some comedy devices that either are key signatures of the genre and/or are universal themes that transcend pop cultural tastes as did this movie had. The issue I took with Luck is with all its classic, screwball romcom themes, everything came across as muted. I ain’t talking low key here. I’m talking wrestling with the snooze alarm and losing muted.

Pace drags. Moving on.

Luck played like a watered down Mark S Waters project. Hell, it could’ve been one his films, what with Lohan on board and the bittersweet atmosphere of the movie, but there are unshakable trappings at work here. Maybe be even sinister.

Okay, a bit dramatic. Still, there’s this subtle cruelty in Luck‘s story dynamics. That muted feeling I mentioned didn’t just apply to the execution of classic romcom standards, but also an undercurrent of meanness for two-thirds of the film. It was like we as an audience to were expected wait on baited breath for the next sh*tball for Ashley to field, and therein laid the fun. Not to mention how Jake’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune was more like privilege than hard-earned (yo, Hollywood: ‘Muricans love the underdog overcoming their adversities, not just getting a handout. This kinda undoes some tension, always vital to creating a good story). Neither side of the dynamic was hopeful nor satisfying for a movie make.

I’ll quit lecturing. But you gotta agree, negativity is a helluva way to turn off your average romcom audience. Happened here. It had it on good authority (read: the IMDb) a lot of folks found Luck not only unfunny and lacking spark but also possessing a sour taste in the mouth. Paraphrasing here. Terms like “canned” and “forced” also dappled amateur reviews. I had to agree, but I’d like to believe that my loose cannon lens wasn’t so myopic.

I’d like to believe that. But let’s try anyway.

Like I mentioned earlier, the film was lame but not wanting for quality material. Huh? What’s that? A muted, somewhat mean-spirited love story had a stripe of quality running through it? Well kinda. On a second thought, Luck wasn’t exactly muted. It was cluttered with devices trying to be disguised with traditional romcom elements. The flick was a throwback to late-50s/early-60s romantic comedies/dramas. Think Breakfast At Tiffany’s or The Apartment. Bittersweet. Luck came across as just bitter. Sure, it had the mismatched would-be lovers, the struggles of living in The Big City (almost always NYC), stereotypical but not quite cutout characters who eventually “find/save” one another, a heartwarming resolution. The whole wad (no cats to rescue, still it might’ve helped here).

What went wrong here is that almost everything in Luck screamed “called it in.” Stock everything that almost hit the mark. It’s shame for a fluffy romcom to feel fluffy; a pair of shears would’ve been useful. The flick had a sorta pseudo-Disney feel underneath the underneath. Chalk it up to LiLo’s salad days, and perhaps director Petrie was attempting to cash in on his starlet’s rep with her first foray into more “grown-up” movies. Big shocker: didn’t work. Predictable, but—not unlike the plot—what did you expect?

Enough sh*t. What’s at the heart, so to speak, of a romantic comedy? Right, our heroes. This flick had a likable cast. What went wrong? On one side Luck had Chris Pine in all his awkward, pre-Kirk glory. On the other we had LiLo with all her sexy, smoky-voiced, pre-unadulterated street drug glory. Well, despite the setback of Lohan OD’ing on coke for the first time during Luck‘s shoot (there’s sumpin’ fer the résumé) both our leads did a serviceable job. I felt one of the nicest aspects of Luck  was watching Pine in his salt mine years. He was earning some footing here, and it was good to watch where his toddling steps of movie stardom began. It was kind of akin to seeing Brad Pitt in Thelma And Louise, saying, “Hey, this guy’s got something here.” I enjoy Pine; he’s fun. And could his Jake be any sweeter? Hell, his way with band management, needful little kids and eventually bagging a babe, I think he was a safe bet to run a Federation starship.

However…

Here we had an example in seeing one star rise as one begins to fall, and the twain really meet. In Luck, ostensibly a Lohan vehicle designed to be her breakaway “adult” role, we had our star going through the motions. She seemed bored with her role, indifferent and only showed shades of her waning comic talent and manna. Sure, serviceable was the key word here overall with Luck, but like with a recovering addict (let’s forgo irony here), LiLo’s Ashley is only as interesting as when she’s leaning up against her co-stars for support. Simply put, Ashley is only Our Girl Friday The 13th when balanced against her onscreen friends. Not by. Against. In the scenes—especially the second and third acts—where Ashley is more or less forced to face life without her luck but still has her best buds, Lohan shined some like an uncut diamond. It was too bad that this was in fits and starts. For Luck, half of the time it was Lohan’s show, but keep in mind she had to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast for a full 90 minutes, and not in every scene. In short, Lohan was wobbly, only showing glimpses of her spark from her films past. Including Waters’ work. Too bad, and some love lost here. Some.

Such a drag. We all need a fluffy romcom once in a while. Luck ain’t one of them. The thing has too much inconsistent acting, too many dumb sightgags and too much abrading, mean spirited ridiculousness. Breakfast At Tiff’s this wasn’t.

Okay, that was a far cry. Luck was barely brunch.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. You want worthwhile, friendly fluff? Go shear a sheep. Good luck with that, BTW.


Stray Observations…

  • I caught that rainbow a might bit after the helicopter takeoff. Twenty minutes in and any possible subtly is gone.
  • “I like the tiny marshmallows.” Kinda sweet there, and neither in a syrupy nor South Park way.
  • My girl is all over astrology, but wary of tarot. You know what I’m shaky with? Superstition dictating fate. Check out my Netflix queue if you don’t believe me.
  • Hey! Tift Merritt! Big fan here.
  • “They all look alike to me.”
  • Kill me, but I dug McFly’s Britpop style.
  • “I’m afraid to say yes.”

Next Installment,,,

Nic Cage is royally pissed off with those thieves that ignored the NO TRESPASSING signs circling his property. Should’ve got a bulletproof dog.


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