Let It Ride

Director:Joe Pytka                          
Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, David Johansen

Richard Dreyfuss has made popular movies where he plays an overall likable fellow, but for much of his career, he has made a number of movies where he plays brash, unlikable characters that are usually comic foils and/or in a pseudo supporting role. Some of these movies where he plays such a character have been hits with audiences, like What About Bob?, but for the most part, audiences have stayed away from these movies. This is probably because audiences don't want to spend an hour and a half with a creep. (What About Bob?'s popularity seems to come from the fact that his hateful character gets "punished" throughout the movie, and audiences always love to see someone get what's coming to him.) Though Dreyfuss' character in Let It Ride is not unlikable, the movie bombed in a big way neverless. My theory is that the advertising campaign destroyed the chances of the movie becoming a big hit. The tagline on the poster (reproduced on the video box) read: "He drinks. He smokes. He gambles. He curses. He thinks about committing adultery. You'll love him." I'm sure people reading that tagline concluded that Dreyfuss would be grating, and therefore stayed away. Too bad, because Let It Ride is a zippy and very funny movie, with Dreyfuss playing a character who might be a little naughty, but is likable throughout neverless.

This character is named Jay Trotter, a taxi driver who's not just a compulsive gambler, but the unluckiest gambler that you can imagine. At the beginning of the movie, he and his wife have pledged to each make resolutions to save their rocky marriage, with Jay pledging to cut his gambling. But that same night, a fellow taxi driver gives him information about a "sure bet" for next morning's horse race that he overheard from a passenger. Jay can't resist, stating, "This isn't gambling! Gambling includes risk! This is just taking advantage of an extraordinary business opportunity," and he heads to the track the next morning. He feels "different" that day, and after winning the initial bet, he subsequently makes more bets, and finds himself having an incredible winning streak. But will it last? Will the "dark forces" out there stop his progression? And what happens if his wife finds out he's at the track?

Dreyfuss is in almost every shot in the movie, so he has a large burden to carry. And he manages to pull it off. He is careful to make Jay Trotter into a likable character. Sure, he gambles, smokes, drinks, and curses (he doesn't really seem to think of committing adultery, though), but we sense that he's had a hard luck life, and we can forgive him for his vices, and root for him to succeed. But most importantly, Dreyfuss' character is funny in many different ways. We see him praying a pleading prayer to God in a toilet stall, whining to God to please please please make this his luckiest day. He shrieks with joy, snaps his fingers constantly, and makes incredible frenzied moves with his body, not caring at all what anyone thinks of him. His reasoning also is hilarious; at one point in the movie, he figures that he'll have nothing left after he spends his winnings on a big celebration party and twelve years worth of rent. Another scene has him lecture a fellow gambler, "In order to have a bad feeling, you need to have a good feeling first -  so you have no frame of reference!!!" When he bumps into many of the weird characters he meets during the day, we hear his rapid thoughts as he makes mental calculations of how much money they make every minutehourdayweekandyear.

Besides Jay, there are a lot of other eccentric characters running around. Robbie Coltrane, as the man in the ticket booth, has repeated run-ins with Jay, and his changing behavior towards Jay is both funny and interesting. Two crooked horse dealers have a hilarious conversation with Jay when both sides are obviously lying to each other, yet both sides know the other is lying - still, they keep lying to each other. Garr has a small but amusing role as Jay's long-suffering wife, and has one of the funniest scenes when she asks a simple question and gets an unexpected response. But favorite character is "Cheeseburger", who shares with Jay two of the funniest scenes in the movie, one where he mocks Jay, and later when he gives Jay a "reward" that I doubt would be a welcome reward in anyone's mind.

Joe Pytka, an award-winning director of commercials who later went on to co-direct the hotly debated Space Jam, made his directorial debut here. Though his commercials were fast paced, filled with quick edits, and lots of special effects, he wisely restrains himself here. It's much funnier to have one element of near-craziness (Jay) in a sea of more or less normality, than have everything and everyone crazy. He does put in energy and stunts, but only at key moments, such as when Jay is racing to the ticket window before it closes, while jumping over people and sliding on the floor. Almost all of the movie takes place at the race track, but Pytka takes us everywhere on the property (washrooms, bars, the restaurant, the basement, etc.), so we are never bored. In fact, we get a very good idea of the workings at a racetrack, including how the track is run, the kind of people that frequent the establishment, and the activities gamblers and workers are usually involved in. And Pytka keeps up throughout the movie the sunny, feel-good mood he generates. When Jay says "I'm having a very good day," near the end of the movie, viewers will be feeling something like what he's feeling. If you want to watch a comedy where you'll feel good watching up to when the closing credits begin, and you also want to have a lot of good laughs, put this movie in your VCR and let it ride.

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Also: I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now, Amanda And The Alien, Flush