Movie Review: Lucky Day (2019)

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A funny thing happened on my way to review writer-director Roger Avary's new movie Lucky Day. I watched his first picture Killing Zoe, which is a film I could've sworn I'd not only seen but also liked, only to discover that I hadn't and I didn't. In fact, I hated every aggressively nihilistic, dispiritingly misanthropic second of it.

Still, in Zoe, it's clear that Roger Avary — who won an Academy Award for his story contributions to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction screenplay — is a man of ideas both good and bad. And now with twenty-five years of life and professional experience at his disposal since Zoe, I was cautiously optimistic to see what he'd create next.

A far more polished endeavor, Lucky Day wastes little time before indulging in Francophile Avary's many creative whims, starting with an incongruous Days of Heaven style opening voice-over track performed in English by eight-year-old Beatrice (Ella Ryan Quinn), who then speaks nothing but French for the rest of the movie.

The ode to all things fran├žais continues as we're introduced to Crispin Glover's psychopathic French villain Luc who speaks with a hammy Pink Panther accent. Visibly relishing in the role, in his first scene, Glover teases out every ridiculous vowel like the sound of his own voice thrills him before we realize that Luc is a tornado looking to land.

Having just arrived in the United States, Luc is on the hunt for Luke Bracey's newly paroled safe-cracker Red, who's eager to just lay low with his French wife Chloe (Nina Dobrev), a pretentious artist who — much like Uma Thurman's wig in Pulp Fiction — wears her hair like Anna Karina did in the 1960s.

Filled with Pulpisms including surf rock and pet names like Honeybun and Bumblebee for Red's wife and daughter, while Lucky's Tarantinoesque elements feel about as fresh in 2019 as they did in the late 1990s after one new Pulp Fiction knockoff after another was released into theaters, the actors all have fun with it.

Trying to sell each new quirk as though it's the one crucial ingredient needed to make up an authentic personality we can believe in, on top of daughter Beatrice's insistence that she speak only French, Avary's film informs us that she can make herself invisible by touching her nose. Rounding out the eccentric cast of characters, we also encounter Dobrev's lecherous Harvey Weinsteinish boss Derek (David Hewlett) who tries to threaten her into sex while wearing a garish painted on mustache for no apparent reason. Two otherwise intriguing character ideas that might've paid off better if more time had been spent on them, the light whimsy of Beatrice versus the camp of Derek represent just two wild swings in tone for Day, which strives to reinvent itself in a different genre with each successive scene.

Though slightly more mature than Zoe, Lucky Day invokes some troubling racial stereotypes and caricatures throughout the film as it establishes a pattern of using minorities as a diversion to laugh at or kill off in absurd ways. Featuring stereotypical portrayals of African American, Asian, and Latino supporting characters, Avary's film is especially cruel to its female minorities and feels at times as if he's channeling Bret Easton Ellis' novels, which he adapted and directed twice in the early '00s. From an Asian woman whose last name sounds like a nickname for the male anatomy to an African American woman who is simply there to be used for offscreen sex and slaughtered within the very first act, as well as a Mexican woman who's racially insulted, humiliated, and faces a similar fate later on, Avary's (hopefully unintentional) bias is on full display.

Well shot and chopped, even though on a professional level, the quality of this film is light-years better than Avary's first, despite the sweet family unit at its core, Day's attitude remains just as mightily misanthropic, ugly, and misogynistic as, in addition to minorities, it takes a few cheap shots at cops, critics, and passersby along the way.

Evolving into a demented Wile E. Coyote cartoon, Avary temporarily redeems himself with a fast paced shootout and chase sequence that begins at a snooty art gallery and ends up in the basement of our main character's workplace (or front). An elaborately choreographed action set piece that wears its Raising Arizona style inspiration proudly in every frame, as Red's personal and professional worlds collide and his family ends up in Luc's crosshairs, Avary raises the tension and pulls us in an unpredictable high stakes pursuit. And while it does bode well for him as a writer-director of comedic action fare, unfortunately, in a film that finds him throwing absolutely everything at the wall to see what sticks, it's too little too late.

A modest improvement over Killing Zoe yet one that enjoys making its nonwhite and female characters the cruelest of punchlines, Lucky Day is bolstered by its accomplished cast, who commit to the picture like nobody's business. And honestly, for the (very few) moments it works, it works well. Yet in its current form, Avary appears to be making three very different movies at the same time — a cynically over-the-top ultraviolent thriller with a larger than life villain, a work of Madeleine-esque French child centric whimsy, and a subversive camp dramedy about a horned up sexual harasser in the workplace.

Needless to say, Roger Avary is a man with no shortage of stories up his sleeve. Although admirable indeed, Lucky Day makes you wish that idea man Avary would take a step back to see which of his ideas translate the best to the tale he's trying to tell and which ones make about as much sense as an English language voice-over in a crime film by a girl who speaks French and turns invisible.

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