It's always energizing to see an actor give a breakthrough performance -- which is something that you get from Ari Graynor in Lucky, opening in limited release Friday (7/15/11).
But it's bittersweet to see her do such an outstanding job in a movie that makes so little of its material. Directed by Gil Cates Jr., from a script by Kent Sublette, Lucky is like watching a great tennis player volleying with someone who can't return the ball.
Not that Graynor is a newcomer -- she was the best thing about Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, as Norah's party-hearty pal. She's been good in several other films that hardly anyone saw -- and, unfortunately, that's probably going to be the case with Lucky.
She plays Lucy, a terrible receptionist at a corporation who's been sleeping with her boss who's about to fire her. Meanwhile, she pays no attention to Ben (Colin Hanks), a coworker who obviously has a huge crush on her and who she's apparently known since they were children. She's obviously never given him a tumble or even a second glance.
That all changes when Ben wins the Iowa State Lottery to the tune of $36 million. Suddenly she's not only his new best friend -- she's desperately attracted to him. Which is just fine with Ben, whose obsession with Lucy has, shall we say, gotten out of control.
That's something that Lucy discovers on their Hawaiian honeymoon. It turns out that Ben is, in fact, a serial killer. And his victims share a common resemblance to Lucy. Indeed, his winning lottery ticket was in the pocket of his last victim before his wedding.
So now Lucy faces a dilemma -- because if she turns him in, she could potentially lose his fortune. On the other hand, she's afraid he'll kill again and that his victim might be her.
Lucky takes a while to gain momentum, but that's just about the time it goes off the rails. Cates has wonderfully dark and farcical situations with which to work -- but somehow can't mine them for laughs.
Part of it is the plotting, which is plodding; part of it is Hanks, who seems too bland to be threatening. That, in itself, could be funny but, unfortunately, here it's not. Nor does Ann-Margret, as his infirm mother -- who undergoes a miraculous transformation after the lottery win -- get the chance to do anything amusing in what potentially is a funny role.
It's meant to be deadpan but Lucky is just dead, period. Only Graynor manages to inject any life into it. But she might as well be shooting electricity through a corpse, for all the good it does.
Click here: Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.
HuffPost Entertainment is your one-stop shop for celebrity news, hilarious late-night bits, industry and awards coverage and more — sent right to your inbox six days a week. Learn more