|Let it Ride|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 18 September 2001|
Rather mysteriously surfacing on DVD, the obscure Richard Dreyfuss vehicle "Let It Ride" has hardly been given A-class treatment by Paramount. The only extras are the standard trailer and a pretty weak making-of, the sort of tossed-off extended commercial that have been common since the mid-80s. It features some amusing comments by costar Robbie Coltrane, and a few interesting lines from David Johansen, who claims never to have read the script.
But the script, by Nancy Dowd (credited to Ernest Morton), is the best thing about "Let It Ride." For once, a compulsive gambler is not presented as a hag-ridden addict who destroys his (rarely her) life through his compulsion. Instead, this is a sub-Damon Runyon comedy, moderately sassy, occasionally funny, in which our gambler, Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss), is depicted as just getting by, rather than an out-and-out loser. That is, until he hits what every compulsive gambler (and even a few cooler-headed professional gamblers) is certain is waiting down the road: a winning streak.
Trotter is a taxi driver; he's recently agreed with his sarcastic but long-suffering wife Pam (Teri Garr) to give up gambling, so he can return home. (He mostly bets on horse races.) Of course, this is before his slightly dopey friend Looney (David Johansen), a fellow taxi driver, gives Trotter a sure-fire tip. (The fact that Looney doesn't recognize this as a sure-fire trip nearly drives Trotter nuts.) Looney likes to secretly tape-record passengers in his taxi, mostly for sex talk, but happened to catch a couple of race track pros, who seem to be revealing that Saturday's race at Hialeah is fixed.
Hot damn, Trotter thinks. Betting on a fixed race isn't, of course, really gambling; it's a sure-fire investment. Pam couldn't possibly object. So he bets on the horse, and wins. He bets again, and wins again, and again, and again. He's found his long-sought lucky streak, and the news of his success is instantly known by everyone concerned with the outcome of horse races, from the barflies at his slightly seedy local bar to the high flyers at the track's ritzy Jockey Club. He even arouses the amorous attentions of sexy, ditzy Vicki (Jennifer Tilly) and the elegant Mrs. Davis (Michelle Phillips), but remains true to Pam.
And still his luck continues. Trotter is at first happy, then disbelieving, then worried, but finally gives in to a blithe disregard: the laws of chance have gone crazy -- who's he not to cash in on this big change?
Dreyfuss is very good; in the years before 1989, his acting had become broader, more intense, and he was in danger of becoming a kind of joke; he managed to overact wildly in "Whose Life Is It Anyway," when all he could move was his head. But he'd begun to calm down with movies like "Tin Men" and "Nuts," and in "Let It Ride, concentrates on the character. He has a few flamboyant scenes, as when he just can't believe that Looney doesn't recognize his great luck, but mostly Dreyfuss is subdued, eventually floating along on a cloud of euphoria.
As with Damon Runyon's racetrack tales, the movie is ripe with colorful characters, from those who stare into space and read the names of winners, to other bettors, even to the cynical betting-window ticket seller (Robbie Coltrane, who's excellent). The ticket seller is especially amusing, as he shifts from cynical detachment to a one-man rooting section for Trotter. Others who turn up include the wonderfully-named Tony Cheeseburger (Richard Dimitri), draped in gold chains, and wealthy Greenberg (Allen Garfield), who favors rose-colored blazer. B-movie icon Mary Woronov has a few good scenes as a salty waitress who seems to have mystical powers.
The script is based on the novel Good Vibes by Jay Cronley, and was written by Nancy Dowd, who uses the pseudonym of Ernest Morton. Dowd first gained notice for writing "Slap Shot," the wildly profane hockey comedy starring Paul Newman, but after that, was uncredited more often than not. "Let It Ride" seems to have been her last movie to date. Her scripts were often better than the finished film -- and that may well be true of "Let It Ride," too.
This was the first (of only two) feature films directed by Joe Pytka, who made his reputation as a director of commercials. Like all too many who come into features from that route, he seems to think in terms of scenes only, not the plot, not how scenes cut together. His camera is far too mobile, and the movie has plenty of Dutch angles. (His only other feature work was the live-action segments of "Space Jam.") But his hambone approach is less harmful here, because Dreyfuss effectively carries the film straight through. The other actors are fine, but the movie is about Trotter and his amazing run of luck.
The DVD release has been given perfunctory treatment. The print is in good shape, though the colors seem overripe -- be prepared to turn down "color" on your TV's controls. Furthermore, the images seem a little soft, lacking in definition, but it looked that way in theaters, too. There's nothing exceptional about the sound; it's good, professional work, but it's not going to put your subwoofer through a workout.
The only extra -- there isn't even a trailer -- is a brief, very standard "making of" promotional short. The best stuff in it is Robbie Coltrane cracking some jokes at Dreyfuss' expense, and David Johansen claiming (truthfully?) that he never read the script.
"Let It Ride" is far from a comedy classic, and didn't do much at the boxoffice, either. It's understandable: it's a bit too loose -- it never really builds to a climax, and several sub-climaxes are badly handled. Furthermore, just the very idea has a certain quality of diminishing returns: Trotter keeps winning. That's the idea, but a steady run of success isn't all that interesting. However, overall, the film is good, undemanding fun, and Dreyfuss is very amusing most of the time. You could place a worse bet.