Film review: Lay the Favourite (15)

IF Frank Sinatra was correct and luck be a lady, then she failed to glance in the direction of Stephen Frears’s ham-fisted comic caper.

Based on a colourful memoir by journalist Beth Raymer, this is the unlikely tale of a free-spirited stripper who discovers her calling in the high stakes world of sports bookmaking.

“The following story is true,” promises the opening titles. Evidently, fiction is duller than fact because screenwriter DV DeVincentis struggles to construct a screwball comedy from the promising source material, striking an uneven tone that inspires lacklustre performances from the starry cast. Rebecca Hall possesses a disarming ditziness as the heroine, who discovers she is good with figures other than her own, while Catherine Zeta Jones is squandered as a forceful wife, who believes that cosmetic surgery is the route to lasting happiness.

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However, despite the best efforts of Frears to hustle us into caring about the undernourished characters, the film’s odds of success are extremely long.

Rating: ***