Jon Voight stars in Lookin' to Get Out as Alex Kovac, a gambler chasing after a loss. Ten grand in the hole, he's only got a couple of hours before the corpulent gangsters he owes take it out of his hide, and so he grabs his best pal Jerry (Burt Young, best known for the Rocky movies) and high tails it to Vegas. Alex has a plan to win it big, using some names he picked up a few years back when he lived in Sin City to get him and Jerry a free room and an account to bankroll them.
What Alex hasn't figured on is that the lady he left behind when his luck ran out before is going to be waiting for him out there. Patti (Ann-Margret) was a hooker when she was dating Alex, but she has since gone legit, working at the hotel in some capacity while also dating the owner, Bernie Gold (Richard Bradford, who looks like he could be Kevin Spacey's father). Bernie is also the name that Alex drops to get his hook-up, and when Patti hears it coming out of his mouth, she knows something fishy is going on.
Lookin' to Get Out was made in 1980, but held for release until 1982, when a studio-mangled version finally hit theatres before quickly fading. It was directed by the great Hal Ashby (Being There, Harold & Maude), whose best days were unfortunately behind him, and co-written by Voight and first-time screenwriter Al Schwartz. All involved do good work here, Ashby could still pull a film together, but it's hard not to think that there is something missing from the center of this picture. This DVD represents an extended cut put together in private by Ashby, who was an Oscar-winning editor, and according to notes by Jon Voight that are included as an insert here, the director has added scenes back in and fleshed out the story, tweaking the entire film from the ground up. This cut is fifteen minutes longer than the theatrical version, but like the characters Ashby's film portrays, he still didn't get at the success that was eluding him.
Which isn't to say that Lookin' to Get Out is bad, because it's not. Excepting the overlong chase through the back halls of the casino, the movie actually flows too fast for it to ever settle in the mind long enough to worry about what might be wrong. The narrative follows Alex's manic pace, often seeming to lack as much direction as he does. By chance, he encounters Smitty (Bert Remsen), a great blackjack player now working as a waiter in the casino. Alex saw him win big before, and using the money he got out of his con, he sets Smitty up to do it again. The blackjack game pays off on the gambling high the film has been trying to effect, with Ashby creating tension around the table without ever getting too caught up in the cards. It's what happens after, though, that ends up proving the whole film is a little bit hollow.
Jon Voight is on target in his performance as Alex. He is electrically charged from start to finish, never letting up or pausing for reflection. This ends up being the Achilles heel, however; Voight wrote himself a showy role, but he forgot to include any heart. Once the movie starts to wind down, I found myself thinking that though I've watched Alex all this time, I didn't really want to. While I didn't need him to be redeemable, I did need some better reason to like him, to cheer him on or feel sorry for him. He's not a decent guy, he doesn't treat people well, and he's not good at anything. He isn't even funny, his bad jokes actually being a story point. In the end, he learns nothing, and the comedown that should transform him has little impact.
This means the only thing propping Alex up--and by default, the movie, as well--are the people who, for whatever reason, have chosen to be his friends and in doing so, have committed to stick by him through thick and thin. Alex and Jerry's camaraderie is winningly childish. They regularly descend into fits of laughter at the most inappropriate moments. Alternately, Ann-Margret's performance as Patti is the one restrained element of the movie. She is understated, calm, and emotionally conflicted. She and Jerry share a couple of very human moments, bonding over their being anchored to a screw-up like Alex, even noting their awareness that he's a screw-up. Both admit that there are better options out there, but in the end, maybe this is what Lookin' to Get Out is about. More than the gambling, more than the insane highs, it's about the friendships in this life, the connections we make that carry us through even when we don't deserve it.
Lookin' to Get Out was shot by revered cinematographer Haskell Wexler, a frequent Ashby collaborator who also lensed pictures like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and In the Heat of the Night (the movie Ashby won his editing Oscar for). Wexler goes for a grainy, natural look here that captures all the grit and grime of Las Vegas. It also matches well with the freeboating style, the whole thing feels like it's off the cuff. Again, this is what keeps Lookin' to Get Out moving and why it manages to be an enjoyable movie even if it's somewhat lacking. The film also ends up being a good record of Vegas at the time, capturing the activity at the casino and a real floorshow. This was the first production allowed into the MGM Grand. You'll even spot a young Siegfriend and Roy.
Speaking of spotting youngsters, trivia buffs will appreciate that this is the film debut of Jon Voight's famous daughter, Angelina Jolie, who plays the daughter of Ann-Margret's character. She would have been about five at the time of filming. Angelina's real-life mom, Marcheline Bertrand, also appears in Lookin' to Get Out as the woman in the jeep that Alex hits on at the beginning of the movie.
There is optional Closed Captioning for the deaf and hearing impaired, as well as French subtitles.
There are two bonuses on the disc, the original theatrical trailer and a new sixteen-minute interview collage with co-writers Voight and Al Schwartz, and actors Burt Young and Ann-Margret--who still looks remarkable and gets the best moment in the featurette when she corrects Jon Voight for calling her "Ann" and not her full name. The lady has class, and a fella should be so lucky to be schooled by her for anything! This bonus is a short but inclusive history of the production. It's interesting to see how history breeds genuine nostalgia and appreciation in a cast, and how these interviews are so much more genuine than the on-set backslapping that makes similar featurettes for recent films so shallow.