No RB score given
The reason I’m leaving “Lookin’ To Get Out” unscored is firstly because it’s not a good film and a low score would not do justice to the memory of a truly visionary director, (see my review of “Being There”) and secondly because the movie just feels unfinished, period. None of the creativity and brilliance of Hal Ashby’s filmography from the 70s can be found in this 1982 vehicle, and much has been written about the declining quality of Ashby films in the 80s until his untimely death in 1988 at age 58. My thought is that his movies started declining due to his health. Ashby, who evidently did not live to please the suits of Hollywood, may have been limited by budgetary or other constraints which in turn may have factored into the poor quality found in “Lookin’ To Get Out.”
There was certainly material to work with; two small time gamblers hoping to pay off their debts by hitting it big in Las Vegas. If not exactly original, should have been rife with movie possibility. The problems however were not addressed so they sank the entire production, starting with bad acting from Jon Voight. I don’t even know if you can call what Voight did in that film acting – it’s more like he showed up to work in whatever state, and Ashby just let him run with it. Burt Young and Ann-Margaret had better delivery but they too seemed to be half asleep. Hands down the best acting was contributed by the excellent character actor, Bert Remsen, as the sage old gambler. His scenes are easily the most watchable and at the end, the viewer wishes Remsen had been in more scenes.
The second problem is a flat script with equally two dimensional characters, making it difficult for a viewer to engage with them. For example, the early scene where Voight stumbles into a card game, giggling and losing money, Voight should have been able to give that character dimension, goofy perhaps but with other layers. Instead he just comes across as a drunk idiot. So how much will anyone care about a boring, drunk idiot? Exactly.
Third, unbelievably lifeless cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Especially when you consider that Ashby had collaborated with Wexler successfully in other films. Some of the deficiencies in both the acting and screenplay could have been glossed over with better camera work, especially given the setting. Even the very opening shot, shows Voight slowly driving a car into a parking garage, and the camera should give us something other than dull pictures that are less interesting than concrete walls are in real life. In trying to view this movie with an “arty”eye, the unfulfilled hope is that this opening merely sets the stage for something else. No, the film sputters along, remarkably like that car engine in the opening. Suffice to say there is very little in the way of visual interest, so again, that tends to highlight even more the other shortcomings.
Watching this movie (not recommended), you can almost envision Ashby in the cutting room, sorting through film in a quest for improvement, uneasily aware that while he and Voight might have had fun hitting the bar after filming, that audiences weren’t going to be as entertained. Couple of interesting points about this film, one, that Voight’s young daughter Angelina Jolie had a small role as well as his wife, Marcheline Bertrand in a bit part at the beginning. Two, in the ending scene where Voight and Young are giggling together in the cab going to the airport, they are so eerily similar to the dumb modern day cartoon “Beavis and Butthead” to the point where if that creator doesn’t give credit for his inspiration, he should. Unless you are embarking on a Hal Ashby retrospective, you can, and should, skip this movie, and watch any of his works from the 1970s instead.