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Saturday, September 14, 2013

HARD LUCK -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2006 at

It's hard to settle into HARD LUCK (2006) because it's hard to figure out what kind of movie it's trying to be.  When bigtime street hustler Lucky (Wesley Snipes) ends up in prison, he falls for his case worker and they end up moving to New Orleans after his release and settling into a love nest, but their happiness is interrupted when Lucky falls ill and is rushed into surgery.  When he wakes up, the hospital is flooded and there are dead people floating around in the hallway.  That's right, Hurricane Katrina.  When he makes his way home, his wife is gone and he ends up on the wrong end of a National Guardsman's rifle. 

So, is Lucky going to be some kind of bad-luck Forrest Gump, stumbling haplessly in and out of historic situations and giving director Mario Van Peebles a chance to make more political statements?  Nope, he moves back to New York and starts at the bottom again, hawking cheap stolen merchandise on the streets for a young Jewish guy named Sol who wears Tony Montana leisure suits and says stuff like "Wut izzle, my nizzle?" Lucky also finds time to help run a recreation center for kids until the mean old government cuts their funding.  This is as close to "going straight" as Lucky can seem to manage.

By this time the opening credits were almost over, and I was still wondering where the movie was going.  Well, when Lucky goes along with Sol to his birthday party in a fancy strip club and ends up reluctantly accompanying him on a really big dope deal upstairs, with two briefcases full of half a million bucks and large scary guys with guns standing around, it looks like it's gonna be a crime drama.  Especially when the deal turns out to be a set-up by some crooked cops moonlighting with confiscated cash, which Lucky somehow manages to abscond with while everyone else is either blasting away or getting blasted. 

He steals a car belonging to Angela (Jackie Quinones), the buxom stripper who just gave him a lap dance, while she's still in it.  There's a cursory car chase with too much jittery editing and shots sped up for no reason (this movie has a lot of that sort of tomfoolery in it), and we soon wish Lucky had kicked Angela out of the car before taking off because she won't shut up.  Later on in their motel room, after a gratuitous but admittedly enjoyable scene in which Lucky makes Angela remove all of her clothing so she'll be less likely to run away, she opens one of the briefcases and finds out the hard way that they're both wired with exploding ink bombs. 

Which puts a crimp in Lucky's plan to simply return the money to the bad guys and be done with it.  So, with the cops--including Van Peebles himself as "Captain Davis"--and the bad guys both after them, Lucky and Angela must hit the road until he can find a way to disarm the other ink bomb and they can divvy up the remaining money.

Lucky and Angela bicker like an old married couple but we're just sure that by the time the movie's over, they'll be in love.  And we're treated to scenes like the two fugitives wearing old-people Halloween masks to hide their ink-covered faces, and Lucky accusing Angela of "blowing one" in the car.  As Haley Joel Osment sourly remarked in THE SIXTH SENSE, "I didn't know you were funny."  And it's with all of this set-up finally in place that it looks as though HARD LUCK has decided what to be--a comedy.  Or, rather, a kooky romantic comedy-slash-action flick.  But wait...there's more. 

During all of that other stuff, you see, we've been given glimpses of a totally-unrelated storyline concerning a middle-aged rural housewife named Cass (Cybill Shepherd) and her decades-younger Asian hubby, Chang (James Hiroyuki Liao), who live in a large farmhouse whose barn has been converted into an audio-visual recording studio.  But they're not just making any old home movies.  While frolicking around like lovestruck perpetual honeymooners, this odd couple likes to knock out random people with a tire iron, drive them home in their van, and horribly torture them to death in fun and unusual ways while making music videos of the procedure.  No, I'm not making this up.

Okay, so we know that eventually Lucky and Angela are going to cross paths with these lovable psychos, but why?  All I can figure out is that Mario Van Peebles and co-writer Larry Brand are going for a Tarantino thing here.  It's as though they really liked the "Butch and Marcellus meet Maynard and Zed" sequence from PULP FICTION and decided to do a whole movie about it. 

When the two couples first come into proximity with each other in a roadside diner, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny--I mean, Cass and Chang--are having some goofy stream-of-consciousness conversation in a booth while some kid runs around in a "Scream" mask going "RAAAAR!", and another couple we haven't met yet (Cass and Chang's next victims) are sitting at the counter having another conversation about why he should give up entering Extreme Fighting competitions, and then the camera starts floating around in slow-motion as various characters have inner soliloquies that bear little relevance to anything.  The director seems to be trying to deconstruct his movie the way Tarantino did with PULP FICTION, but he isn't nearly as good at fitting the pieces back together in interesting ways. 

Anyway, Lucky and Angela go off to the mansion of a mob-connected, flamboyantly-gay porn flick producer named Mendez (Luis Guzman, BOOGIE NIGHTS, TRAFFIC), who owes Lucky a favor, to switch cars, which gives Van Peebles another chance to inject some "wacky" into the movie as Guzman practically flies through the scene in a hair net and open-too-far bathrobe and the gay-o-meter turned up to "eleven." 

With this hilarity out of the way, Lucky and Angela head out again in their new car and promptly break down in the middle of nowhere.  They find an empty cabin to hole up in, where there's a mildly exciting shoot-out when some of the bad guys catch up to them, and Lucky must find a working phone because Angela has been shot.  But the only other house in the vicinity belongs to--you guessed it--Cass and Chang, who are even now gaily doing dreadful things to their latest torture victims.  I'll let you guess what happens next, and you'll probably be right.

My main reaction when HARD LUCK's closing credits finally scooted onto the screen was a muffled "what the f***?"  A lot happens in this movie, and some of it is entertaining, but the way it tries to assimilate all the different story and stylistic elements into a unified whole is like grabbing pieces from different jigsaw puzzles and jamming them together.  Mario Van Peebles has done much better stuff than this (POSSE, NEW JACK CITY), and Wesley Snipes probably spent the whole movie wishing he were back in BLADE II, or even DEMOLITION MAN--I know I did. 

And perhaps the worst thing about it is that, taken by itself instead of awkwardly stuck into another  storyline with a totally conflicting mood, the whole business with Cass and Chang probably could've made a really good twisted horror comedy all on its own.  It's not every day you see a perky, yet gleefully sadistic Cybill Shepherd in a Halloween mask and frilly apron, shoving a funnel down her bound victim's throat and dangling a live rat over it, or performing dental surgery on same with pliers and other tools.  If Mario Van Peebles had taken this plotline and run with it, he might've come up with a cult classic.

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