Even if your interest in sport can be filed under 'once a year', we all know that clock-weights-in-the-bowels feeling of watching a game or race and realising early on that you're not cheering for, or backing, the winner. You never get used to it, and it's the same for movie fans when a director they rate messes up. Stephen Frears' CV includes The Queen, High Fidelity, The Van, The Snapper, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, but despite a great cast, a bestseller for source material and the highs, lows and superstitions of Las Vegas gamblers for a story, Lay the Favourite deserves only the wooden spoon.
Hall is cast against type (denim cut-offs, tight tops) as Beth Raymer, a naive former stripper whose quest for "stimulation" involves moving to Vegas and trying to find a job as a cocktail waitress. She instead ends up on the payroll of Dink Inc, a company run by professional gambler Dink Heimowitz (Willis), who needs people to place bets for him on the phone and in person at the casinos - there's that much money floating around.
It turns out that, against all the odds, Beth has an aptitude for this kind of work and Dink comes to see her as good luck incarnate. She, on the other hand, gets past seeing him as a father figure and decides he's the man of her dreams. But so far Beth has only ever been exposed to the winning side of Dink, not the depths of his losing streak despair. There's also the small matter of Tulip (Zeta-Jones - almost unrecognisable under a tonne of make-up), his dragon lady wife.
Based on the true-life exploits of Raymer, Frears' caper looked easier to get right than wrong, but the problems just keep on coming. The film builds up momentum too quickly and jumps from one dilemma to another. While there are a couple of good lines ("The money's not important", "That's what people with money love to say"; "The stock market's a racket; I'd rather bet on professional wrestling") and a Vince Vaughn I'm-talking-so-quickly-because-I'm-excited/upset cameo, the script isn't funny enough for the subject matter. Worst of all, you don't really care what happens to Beth, Dink or anyone else and so the boom-or-bust ending is more 'oh, right' than 'oh wow!' Mayo fans have experienced fewer disappointments watching a screen.
Bet the price of the ticket on a horse instead - you'll have a lot more fun, whatever the result.