The ‘80s were a lost decade for many titans of ‘70s cinema, but few fell harder or steeper than Oscar-winning editor turned director Hal Ashby. In the ‘70s, Ashby logged an astonishing run of classics that included Harold & Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound For Glory, Coming Home, and Being There. Ashby’s winning streak ended abruptly with 1981’s long-shelved Second-Hand Hearts and continued until his early death. So while the release of an extended version of a Hal Ashby film with never-before-seen footage should be a cause for celebration, viewers would be wise to view the extended cut of Lookin’ To Get Out—Ashby’s little-loved, similarly long-shelved follow-up to Second-Hand Hearts—with trepidation rather than fevered anticipation.
Jon Voight (who also co-wrote the lumpy, labored screenplay) stars as a fast-talking gambling addict who heads to Las Vegas alongside long-suffering sidekick Burt Young. After conning his way into a luxury suite, Voight reconnects with Ann Margaret, an ex-prostitute who has found comfort and security, if not romantic love, as the kept woman of the wealthy owner of the casino where much of the film takes place. Voight and Young are lifelong losers hoping to make the big score that will turn their luck around permanently.
There are echoes of gritty ‘70s classics in the story of three hard-luck losers on the fringes of society angling for their shot at the American dream and in the film’s skuzzy evocation of a Las Vegas that seems to exist solely to shatter the hopes of small-timers. Yet the echoes of The Last Detail and other superior ‘70s character studies make the film’s weirdly static storytelling and sleepy pace all the more depressing; not every film about overgrown boys being obnoxious in a seedy milieu can be Cassavetes. Here, Voight and Young play the kind of old friends who know each other’s many faults well enough for their bond to be characterized more by richly merited resentment than affection. After spending two plodding hours with these jerks, audiences will know that feeling all too well.
Key features: An interview with Voight and co-screenwriter Al Schwartz.