The Winner

After the runaway critical and commercial success of his first two films, Repo Man and Sid & Nancy, Alex Cox fell out of favor with Hollywood after making movies like Straight To Hell. After a long, self-imposed exile in Great Britain, Cox made a comeback of sorts with Highway Patrolman, a critically acclaimed low-budget Spanish-language drama that was barely distributed in America. The Winner, Cox's first American film in nine years, stars executive producer Rebecca DeMornay as a vampish lounge singer barely scraping out a living on the fringes of Las Vegas. Deep in debt and looking for a way out, she hooks up with Vincent D'Onofrio, a dim-witted Christ figure who wins an enormous amount of money at casinos every Sunday and promptly gives all his money away. DeMornay plans to manipulate D'Onofrio into winning her a fortune, but her plan is interrupted by the reappearance of D'Onofrio's brother, a violent and mercurial hitman played by Michael Madsen; he blackmails DeMornay into cutting him in on the action. Also latching onto D'Onofrio are three intensely irritating lounge lizards who plan to rob D'Onofrio after his big score at the casino. Hovering above the action is satanic Mob Kingpin Delroy Lindo, who just happens to be employing DeMornay's sleazy small-time boyfriend (Billy Bob Thornton) as a hitman. Tedious, pretentious and insufferably cutesy, The Winner is a long and tiresome mess. Cox manages to get very, very bad performances from a slew of talented actors, but ultimately what makes the film so wretched is a script that is simultaneously a hackneyed, heavy-handed religious parable, an unfunny comedy, and a drearily unconvincing love story. Cox still exhibits some visual flair, but his skittish, flashy direction does little to hide the essential emptiness of his material. It's nice to see him working again, but hopefully next time he'll find material worthy of his prodigious if wildly uneven talents.

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