A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
In the new weekly version of Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory, instead of a monthly incarnation with three films that all but skipped the multiplexes en route to Netflix and Amazon Instant, Nathan Rabin will be writing up a single direct-to-DVD movie. The A.V. Club is eager for suggestions for this feature, and readers have been fabulous about making recommendations in the past. Please feel free to suggest possible future entries in the comments.
It can’t be easy being Tom Hanks’ son. No matter how much you accomplish, you’re inherently doomed to fall short of your father’s accomplishments. Oh, you landed a good part on an acclaimed television show? Yeah, your dad won two Oscars and is America’s most beloved celebrity. And he likes to hang out in Europe with his buddy Bruce Springsteen.
Alternately, it must be ridiculously easy being Tom Hanks’ son. You can coast on that shit your whole goddamned life. You’ll never have to purchase another alcoholic beverage again. Beautiful women will throw themselves at you just to be close to the magic contained within your DNA. Peter Scolari’s son really, really wants to hang. You can get into a school like Northwestern is spite of the considerable evidence that you are the dumbest person in existence. And people will be morbidly fascinated by your efforts to establish yourself as a rapper, singer, and all-around pimp of the century, even if you rename yourself Chet Haze and use your Twitter account to provide the world a rare window into the psyche of a deluded narcissist lost in a bubble of hilariously unmerited self-delusion.
Chet Haze and Colin Hanks are the Goofus and Gallant of Tom Hanks progeny. Colin gets intriguing supporting roles in hit dramas like Mad Men and Dexter. Haze posts endless photographs of himself topless on Instagram. Colin Hanks is a well-regarded guest on podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang and Thrilling Adventure Hour. Chet Haze uses social media to disseminate sentiments like “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is some deep shit.” Colin Hanks employs Kickstarter to fund a promising-looking documentary he’s making about Tower Records. Chet Haze opens for LMFAO.
Colin will never be able to match his father’s accomplishments. Who can? But he can at least take comfort that he will never embarrass the family name or make a grotesque public spectacle of himself like his younger half-brother. So it has fallen upon Colin to follow a middle path as a reasonably successful actor who isn’t handsome or charismatic enough for lead roles like his father, or quirky enough to really carve out a niche for himself as a character actor, like his uncle Jim Hanks.
Colin has inherited a lot of his father’s innate likability and genial charm. He seems like a nice, somewhat awkward young man. But in 2011, the journeyman actor had the curious distinction of playing mass murderers in two different mediums. Colin enjoyed an extended arc on Dexter as a murderous religious zealot the same year he headlined the dark comedy Lucky.
Lucky suggests what Psycho might have felt like if gawky, lonely innkeeper/murderer Norman Bates had married scheming, money-hungry opportunist Marion Crane, then used their lottery winnings to fund a new life together. There are two promising comic conceits at play here. First, what happens if a serial killer wins the lottery? Second, what happens if a soulless gold digger out for a big payday discovers her mark is far more evil and amoral than she could ever hope to be?
The central dynamic at play in Lucky recalls that of the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl narrative: Awkward, depressed, introverted loner meets bubbly, chatty, extremely attractive free spirit who rouses him from his funk. The twist here is that the awkward, depressed, introverted loner (Hanks) is a serial killer and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Ari Graynor) is a scheming opportunist with a calculator for a heart.
As Lucky opens, Graynor has just been screwed, literally, by a pretty-boy boss who snuck out of her apartment under the cover of night. The boss rebuffs her in no uncertain terms, at which point Graynor sets her sights on a shy, awkward co-worker (Hanks) who has nursed a seemingly doomed, unrequited crush on her for decades, dating back to their childhoods. Graynor wouldn’t give the game-free Hanks a second glance if he hadn’t just won the lottery, much to the delight of his creepy mother (Ann-Margret).
Graynor is an unrepentant gold digger who sees Hanks as a giant dollar sign with legs and sets about marrying him for reasons that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with commerce. Then she discovers Hanks’ dirty little secret: He has a habit of murdering women who fit her general description. Graynor is horrified but willing to wait until the lottery checks start rolling in before leaving Hanks.
The heroine in Lucky is none too heroic, a glib caricature of a scheming young nymphet on the prowl who emerges as the protagonist by default. Graynor somehow manages to be even less likeable than the serial killer she’s married to. Dark comedies don’t necessarily need to be populated by relatable, likeable, identifiable characters, but—here’s the important part missed by most dark comedies—they do have to be funny. Or at least mildly amusing. Or at the very least not a clammy, laugh-free oasis of awkwardness and squandered opportunities. And it helps if dark comedies contain what are known professionally as “jokes” or “comic situations.” Lucky is largely devoid of either quality: It doesn’t muster up anything resembling a genuinely comic situation until an hour and a half in, when Hanks kidnaps an acquaintance and forces her to perform impromptu marriage counseling on the unhappy couple under the threat of death. It’s not a funny scene, but unlike the rest of the film, it’s at least in the same hemisphere as funny.
Colin gives his all in an under-written, under-realized role, but Lucky is otherwise a complete bust, a laugh-free dark comedy populated by characters as thinly conceived as they are unlikable. It’s bad, all right, and not in a Chet Haze guilty-pleasure manner, either.
Just how bad is it? It’s pretty poor.