Following the emergence of Quentin Tarantino in the early ’90s, audiences the world-round were at least tantalized by the fan-to-filmmaker’s cocktail of pop culturally-savvy criminals and explosive violence. The Tarantino brand would evolve as he grew as a writer and director, substantiating his style with even deeper characters and thematic motifs, but for some who took inspiration from early Tarantino the only take away was carnage and colorful language. That is such a shame and to see something like Lucky Day, a film by Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, drop the ball so hard it falls through the floor.
Writing and directing, Avary’s film comes as a surprise. The filmmaker has previously shown with work like Killing Zoe back in 1993 that he’s more than capable of finding an effective voice of his own, and that he and Tarantino share sensibilities rather than styles. Yet in a landmark year where I think Tarantino has released one of his very best films with Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and evolved his craft, it feels as if Avary’s Lucky Day is an unfortunate regression
Director: Roger Avary
Release date: October 11, 2019
Opening on incarcerated safecracker Red (Luke Bracey), Lucky Day coasts by for most of its 98 minutes telling parallel stories. Fresh out of the can, Red returns to his loving aspiring-artist wife Chloe (Nina Dobrev) and their daughter Beatrice (Ella Ryan Quinn), who’s taken to speaking only in French, much to the bewilderment of her new-to-freedom father. While trying to stay on the straight and narrow, we meet Luc (Crispin Glover), a sharply-dressed, whimsical killer sporting a heavy French accent. His entanglement with Red becomes apparent, the botched heist that put Red in jail linking the two. The men are set for a collision, with all sorts of gleeful bloodshed to pave the way.
With a premise as straightfoward and pulpy as that, one would hope that Lucky Day supplants itself with inventive indulgences. Instead we’re treated to scene after scene of gratuitous violence, casual misogyny, excessive and pointless detail, and a general parade of useless fluff masquerading as style.
The violence in Lucky Day — perpetrated primarily by Luc — is absurd. Hipsters get their throats slit and innocents are gunned down at art galleries, making for Jackson Pollack-esque “art.” Any sense of irony or commentary in the carnage is lost by just how trite and obvious it all feels, without a trace of a beating heart from which the blood might pump. Not to mention the absurd logic and lack of reality Lucky Day operates on; a world where cops are gunned down in the streets of California by assault rifles and there are no consequences. Avary makes it clear that he’s playing with his audience, breaking the fourth wall in ways that might be clever if they weren’t coupled with such unrepentantly-hollow content. It’s one thing to suspend disbelief to drive at a point, or avoid dragging a story down with reality’s pesky tendencies. It’s another to cast aside logic so you can pop off some gunshots to pad out your movie.
Besides the trail of bodies that litter our viewing, we’re “treated” to a slew of casual violence against women, and female characters who are belittled and ultimately reduced to nothing more than damsels in distress. Luc enters the film by dominating another man’s girlfriend (off-screen) and killing her; Chloe fends off the sexual advances of her art dealer for the sake of “comedy” and empowering her character. The women in Lucky Day might swing a punch here and there, but it’s all a hollow act when all’s said and done.
Hollow is maybe the best way of framing the film. While the simple plot should allow for Avary to focus on crafting interesting characters and situations, it all boils down to what feels like a slew of useless detail; like someone organizing a delicious feast only to forget that people need a table to eat off of. The film opens with a parade of soundtrack variety, with “cool walking music” used, literally, as cool walking music. After an initial barrage, it feels as if the soundtrack drops out, with music an afterthought. Details like the vintage yellow Chevy Luc steals, or the N64 game Beatrice plays with her nanny feel like they’re meant to be focal points when they should be the sides to the main course.
Acting can always make a crummy movie stand out, but unfortunately the cast here seems too bogged down by the sloppy dialogue of the script to work things out, and Crispin Glover’s horrible, overwrought French accent is purely irritating, and in no way endearing.
Lucky Day is a failure to capture the hip, barreling energy of ’90s crime films. It ends up feeling like an exercise in overbearing, smug ultra-violence without sense, and tells a practically-nonexistent story of tropes we’ve all seen and heard before. What made Pulp Fiction such a jolt of energy in 1994 was the ways in which its creators–clearly passionate cinephiles–injected the filmic tropes of crime and other genres with wild new attitudes and directions. Rather than inject life into ideas, Lucky Day beats a dead horse without any conviction; a shambling corpse of an era past.