(director: Alex Cox; screenwriter: Wendy Riss/based on Ms. Riss’ stage play A Darker Purpose; cinematographer: Denis Maloney; editor: Carlos Puente; music: Daniel Licht; cast: Vincent D’onofrio (Philip), Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Rebecca Demornay (Louise), Michael Madsen (Wolf), Richard Edson (Frankie), Saverio Guerra (Paulie), Delroy Lindo (Casino Owner, Kingman), Frank Whaley (Joey); Runtime:89 ; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Kenneth Schwenker; Live Entertainment; 1996)
“The brash English filmmaker has made a film about a winner that is a loser.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Troublesome to Hollywood studios filmmaker Alex Cox (“Repo Man”/”Sid and Nancy”/”Straight to Hell”/”Walker”) directs The Winner, based on the play A Darker Purpose by Wendy Riss. The film is about a ‘holy fool’ named Philip, played by Vincent D’onofrio, who keeps winning in a Las Vegas casino run by Delroy Lindo. His action is to every Sunday play at the same casino and win, returning only the following week. This winning streak attracts an assortment of vultures and weirdos and gangsters who surround him with false cheer and plan to hustle him.
Rebecca De Mornay (also the executive producer), an untalented lounge singer and her impotent hitman co-worker boyfriend, Billy Bob Thornton, scheme to get Philip to fall in love with her and thereby steal enough dough from him to pay off her debt to the sinister casino owner.
All the characters, hustlers or whores, are predictable and annoying. The film has a slapdash cheesy quality that couldn’t have purposely been planned that way. Though the visuals comprised of tacky colors is somehow appropriate for this tedious so-called comedy. All the performances were inadequate, but the scenery eating stint by Frank Whaley as a small-time hood was the most unbearable. Also hanging around the winner’s circle is Philip’s homicidal brother, Michael Madsen, who was De Mornay’s ex-boyfriend.
The brash English filmmaker has made a film about a winner that is a loser; it’s a muddled effort that was supposedly ruined by the producers cutting it to ribbons in the editing room without Cox’s permission to the point where he disowned it. Whatever … follow Cox’s advise offered after his unsuccessful attempt to have his name removed from the credits is: “I don’t want anyone to see it.”
REVIEWED ON 1/22/2004 GRADE: C