Lucky Lady

My parents enjoy movies, but they have never been as big about movie watching as I am.  But one movie I do remember that they “passed down” to me was “The Sting,” and it remains one of my favorite films.  It won the Best Picture Oscar for 1973 and was the second highest grossing movie of that year (behind “The Exorcist”).  With that sort of success, others were bound to try to repeat it.  It seems like today’s movie, 1975’s “Lucky Lady,” may very well have been a response to the Newman & Redford classic.

Once again, two big box office leading men are paired up, Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds, but this time they are partnered with an A-list leading lady, Liza Minnelli.  Whereas “The Sting” takes place during the Depression Era, “Lucky Lady” takes place just a few years earlier during prohibition.

Minnelli plays Claire, a lounge singer and wife of recently deceased Tijuana nightclub owner, Harry.  Claire isn’t grieving too much as she is already pretty cozy with Walker, played by Reynolds.  The two have been saving their pesos to purchase a huge shipment of alcohol which they will then transport to the US via boat and sell at a big profit.  But first, Walker is out to make a little extra dough by transporting some people across the border, including an American, Kibby, played by Hackman.  When the border patrol spoils all the fun, Kibby, looking for payback, weasels his way into the bootlegging scheme.  The three end up hiring a boat called “Lucky Lady” skippered by a young man named Billy, played by Robby Benson.  As they sail the waves off the coast of California, they manage to attract the attention of an overzealous coast guard captain, played by Geoffrey Lewis, and a gangster who wants the booze the trio is carrying, played by John Hillerman…yep Higgins from “Magnum PI.”

The film has a lot going for it…three big stars, director Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”), big production values…but it just doesn’t work.  The only one of the three leads who pulls their roll off is Minnelli.  Strangely, Minnelli has never been a star who appealed to me that much. I guess her tabloid persona always overshadowed the rest for me, but she does a good job here.  It’s not a perfect performance, but it fits the role.

Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, is in full “Smokey and the Bandit” mode four years before that movie even came out.  I half expected to see Dom Deluise show up.  And then there’s Hackman who obviously does not want to be in this movie.  Various websites seem to suggest that Hackman turned down this role several times until he was offered an obscene amount of money he couldn’t refuse.

The whole thing is just uneven.  At times it seems to be going for that Sting-like feel, at other moments it tries to be a slapstick comedy.  By the time we reach the climax of the film, there is some pretty bloody violence and a huge boat battle full of explosions that would make the A-Team proud.  I suppose this would be a good place to point out that “Lucky Lady” was penned by the team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, the husband and wife team responsible for “Howard the Duck.”

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot that’s memorable about this movie.  I mean, I’m really struggling here.  I remember Hackman mumbling his way through, I remember Reynolds smirking at the camera, I remember Minelli’s big Powerpuff Girl looking eyes.  A bunch of things went boom at the end of the movie, but otherwise, there’s nothing that makes this movie stand out.  It’s a an overblown 70’s mess of a movie.

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