DVD Review HTF DVD REVIEW: Lookin' to Get Out: Extended Version

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer

    Feb 20, 2001
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    Livonia, MI USA
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    Kenneth McAlinden
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    Lookin’ to Get Out: Extended Version

    Directed By: Hal Ashby

    Starring: Jon Voight, Ann-Margret, Burt Young, Bert Remsen, Jude Farese, Allen Keller, Richard Bradford

    Studio: Warner

    Year: 1982 (Extended Cut: 2009)

    Rated: R

    Film Length: 120 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9

    Subtitles: English SDH, French

    Release Date: June 30, 2009

    The Film ***½

    Lookin’ to Get Out follows the exploits of gambler Alex Kovacs (Voight) and his devoted pal Jerry Feldman (Young).  Alex’s philosophy of life appears to be that if he finds that he has dug himself into a hole, he will keep digging furiously in hopes to find a ladder somewhere below.  This approach finds him heavily in debt to a New York hood, Harry, (Farese) after an all-night poker game, and he convinces Jerry to come with him to Las Vegas to try to raise enough money to pay Harry back.  In Vegas, Alex has a surprising amount of luck using his fast-talking ways and exceptional memory for faces and names to charm their way into a fully comped luxury sweet at a casino run by the imposing, but fortunately out of town, Bernie Gold (Bradford). When Harry spots an alcoholic casino waiter that he recognizes as Smitty Carpenter (Remsen), a former card-counting black jack wizard, he conspires to sober him up and stake him with the $10,000 the casino has loaned him in exchange for splitting the winnings.  Matters are complicated when Alex is recognized by Patti Warner (Ann-Margret) an old flame who is currently Bernie’s mistress.  Additionally they learn that an angry and violent Harry and  his strong-arm henchman Joey (Keller) have followed them to Vegas.

    The initial release of Looking to Get Out was such a critical and commercial disaster, that I actively avoided watching it.  I am a big fan of director Hal Ashby’s amazing string of films through the 70s starting with the underrated The Landlord, and then moving through such acknowledged classics as Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There, and I did not want to soil his legacy in my mind.  After that, Ashby made two films, Second-Hand Hearts, and Lookin’ to Get Out, that sat in post-production limbo for two years, reportedly due to Ashby’s battles with both studio executives and drug addiction.  He subsequently worked on a couple of music projects for The Rolling Stones and Neil Young, but then took assignments where he could get them, making films that generally lacked his keenly observational, yet restrained point of view.  His late career slide seems to have diminished his standing in the eyes of some film critics and historians, but any objective view of his 70s output certainly merits his mention in the same breath as other filmmakers who came to prominence at the time such as Scorsese, Allen, Coppola, and Altman.

    Before the theatrical release of Lookin’ to Get Out, Ashby’s battles with the studio eventually led to him walking away from the project before a final cut was achieved.  The studio demanded that an additional fifteen minutes be cut from the film, and given the choice of meeting the demand or not having the film be released at all, co-writer and star Jon Voight worked with the producers and editors to assemble something that was releasable.  The result was the aforementioned critical and commercial bomb.  26 years later, when Voight was interviewed by Scottish author Nick Dawson for an Ashby biography, he learned that Ashby had quietly assembled a two hour cut of the film and donated it to the UCLA film library.  After this extended cut was seen by Voight and co-screenwriter Al Schwartz, they both agreed that it was far superior to what was released in 1982 and decided that this cut needed a wide release.

    While I cannot comment on how this extended cut compares with the original theatrical version, I can comment on whether it is just a bad movie made longer or a lost classic worthy of Ashby’s 70s canon.  I am pleased to report that it is much closer to the latter than the former.  While it may fall short of Ashby’s best work, it remains a very entertaining character based buddy comedy about a couple of lovable losers.  While the Las Vegas depicted in the film bears only a passing resemblance to any real Las Vegas past or present, it is a suitably tacky cartoonish fantasy land for a delusional gambling addict to try to short con his way into big money.

    Voight relishes the role of Alex Kovac, brimming with false confidence and obliviousness to the danger into which he is always dragging himself and anyone in his immediate circle.  Voight the co-screenwriter errs on the side of overindulging Voight the actor, but the scene stealing underplaying of  Burt Young as Jerry, the absolute best friend for which a guy like Alex could hope, helps to keep things “bromantically” balanced.  Ann-Margret provides the most level headed presence in the film as a woman with a history with Alex, who likes him enough to try to keep him out of serious trouble but knows him too well to count on him for anything important.  The supporting cast is hit and miss with a great turn by Bert Remsen as an alcoholic card counter, some great character work form  Samantha Harper as Jerry’s ex-wife who exploits him as much or more than Alex and Fox Harris as an oddball elevator operator in Alex and Jerry’s New York apartment. Jude Farese feels a bit to much like the heavy from central casting at times, but the odd balance of real menace and comic ineptitude is handled effectively by Ashby.

    As a director and an editor, a large part of Ashby’s work appears to have been striking the right tone and pace to prevent viewers from contemplating or being put-off by a number of elements of the screenplay that rely on bizarre coincidence or otherwise strain credulity.  These include the fact that casino owner Bernie Gold just happens to have a guy on his comp list with the same name as Jerry, the idea that a casino would employ a known card-counter, let alone allow him in the door, and a con that is revealed at one point that makes less sense the more the viewer thinks about it.  While one can rationalize the lucky coincidences as representative of quintessential gambler Alex’s obliviousness to the angels on his shoulder and the hellhounds on his tail, the other plot holes and implausibilities ultimately keep the film shy of greatness, especially as they are pondered in retrospect.  That being said, the film offers enough easy pleasures and likable characters that one caneasily set such concerns aside as the plot is unspooling.

    To modern viewers, the film works on a level that it could not have for 1982 audiences.  It offers a circa 1980 time capsule glimpse of Las Vegas.  As deliberately naive as the film is about how casinos actually operate, its location work at least gets the external details right, including the casino floor of the MGM Grand and stage shows including an impossibly young looking Siegfried and Roy.  Those familiar with the modern MGM Grand may be interested to see how little resemblance it has to the version of almost 30 years ago, although the luxury suite is actually a complete Hollywood soundstage fabrication of Production Designer Robert Boyle.  Ashby did not fins the actual luxury suites luxurious enough.

    Star-watchers will no doubt be intrigued by the brief appearances of both a pre-school aged Angelina Jolie and her mother Marcheline Bertrand in small roles at the end and beginning of the film respectively.

    The Video ***

    The widescreen transfer fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame.  As this extended cut was derived from a print source, it displays the limitations of that element in the form of high contrast resulting in reduced shadow detail, occasional visible film damage, and somewhat coarse grain.  That being said, it appears that a lot of effort has been put into creating a viable video master, and the presentation does a remarkable job of capturing and conveying the subtly expressive lighting set-ups of legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler within the limitations of the element.  The video bitrate is sufficient to give the sense of actual film grain with minimal compression artifacts, and high contrast edge ringing is minimal to non-existent.

    The Audio **½

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio gets the job done, but fidelity is limited.  Dialog is clear and the scenes with a more layered mix such as those on the casino floor are conveyed adequately.  Noise reduction artifacts, such as a slight ringing along  the edges of certain lines of dialog, intrude a bit too often for my taste.

    The Extras ***

    “Lookin’ to Get Out”: The Cast Looks Back (16:12) - is a featurette from director Laurent Bouzerau that delivers a bit more than it promises in that in addition to contemporary comments from cast members Jon Voight, Burt Young, and Ann-Margret, we also hear from story originator and co-screenwriter Al Schwartz.  Topics covered include the origin of the story and screenplay, how Voight came to collaborate with Schwartz on the screenplay, how Hal Ashby and Burt Young were brought in to the project, thoughts from the participants on the film’s characters, views on Las Vegas of the time, the work of Cinematographer Haskell Wexler and Production Designer Robert Boyle blending studio and location footage, Hal Ashby’s unique approach to filmmaking, remembrances of Ashby’s last days and passing, discussion of how Jon Voight was made aware of the existence of this Extended cut by Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and Ashby’s daughter, Leigh MacManus, and the uniformly positive views of all participants on the extended cut.  The mood is overwhelmingly reflective/nostalgic, and as such, certain topics such as the film’s two-year post production process, why the final theatrical cut had to be assembles without Ashby, and any specific editorial comparisons between the two cuts are never directly addressed.  Viewers watching through the end will be treated to some amusing interview outtakes since the featurette credits are intercut with some amusing banter between Voight and Ann-Margret.

    The only other extras is the film’s high energy Theatrical Trailer (2:14) which is presented in 4:3 full-frame video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.  It  has no narration and is jam-packed with terrible 80s music which is completely appropriate for the film’s tacky Vegas milieu.


    The disc is packaged in a standard sized “Ecobox” with a one sided paper insert with a short essay from Jon Voight explaining how he first became aware of this particular extended cut of Lookin’ to Get Out as well as some warm personal remembrances of Hal Ashby.  The nice essay more than makes up for the uninspired but 80s-appropriate cover art.

    Summary ***½

    This extended cut of Hal Ashby’s Lookin’ to Get Out does not quite rise to the level of lost classic due to some distractingly implausible plot contrivances, but it does prove to be a highly entertaining buddy comedy.  Its keenly observant visual and editorial style complimenting Jon Voight’s extroverted performance as an incurable gambler  with friends more devoted than he deserves played by Burt Young and Ann-Margret.  It is presented on DVD with an audio/video presentation that is understandably limited by its film print source but makes the most out of what it has.  Extras include the theatrical trailer and an interesting if brief featurette on the film and the story behind the extended cut.


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