Marriage isn't easy. It takes work and demands patience. This is especially true if you have to dig up bodies and 'replant' them in order to protect the good name of your husband who happens to be a serial killer. (Okay, so that became oddly specific.)
Ben (Colin Hanks) isn't terribly happy which is surprising since he just won 36 million dollars in an Iowa lottery. I guess he's worried about the fact that the winning ticket came off the body of a dead woman currently stashed in his basement. It also doesn't help that Ben's murderous ways are directly responsible for her present lifeless state. If there's a silver lining to this cloud, it's that he's going to get a lot more attention from his lifelong crush, Lucy (Ari Graynor) who bears a strong resemblance to the dead woman. In fact, Lucy looks a lot like the last three women he killed but I'm getting ahead of myself. What's important is that Ben has lots of money and Lucy really loves that about him. She may eventually grow to love him as well but for now the money will do just fine.
After a whirlwind romance, mostly engineered by Lucy and Ben's mom (Ann-Margret), our lovebirds are married and spending that cash like there's no tomorrow. The only problem is Ben didn't elect to take the lump sum. When Lucy finds out that he's blown through his first installment of winnings and is officially penniless, she gets really angry. She isn't thrilled by the fact that he killed a maid on their honeymoon either. But that whole money thing...yeah, she's really steamed about that. Having assumed the role of 'Accomplice to Murder' by getting rid of the maid's body, Lucy decides to see things through and put up with Ben's idiosyncrasies until the next installment check comes in the mail. If getting her mitts on that sweet moolah means covering up his old crimes, then that's just what this dutiful wife will do.
The story of a serial killer and his money-hungry wife could go in many directions but director Gil Cates, Jr., working from a script by Kent Sublette, clearly shoots for quirky black comedy here. Although the tone is hinted at early on, it doesn't perfectly crystallize until the honeymoon killing of the maid. We hear the awful sounds of Ben choking and beating the maid to death just off camera followed by a masterful overhead shot that surveys the carnage with clinical distance. We watch Lucy observe all this from a concealed location as she learns for the first time what sort of monster she's married to. The gears turn as she decides whether to turn in her husband or cover for him and continue her profitable charade of a marriage. The result: she dumps the body into her car and opens a guidebook to locate the closest volcano. That's the punchline and I must admit it made me laugh (a lot).
If the film could build upon the momentum of Lucy coming unglued in her mission to protect Ben long enough to get his money, it would be a smashing success. Unfortunately the energy ebbs and flows too much for this to be the case. Perhaps this is because the stakes aren't sufficiently raised. After Ben kills the maid, much of what consumes Lucy's mind is of her own doing. She works overtime to whitewash Ben's past while he sits idly by enjoying suburban life. Desperation feels more honest when it is reactive rather than proactive. Without more of Ben's blood-soaked shenanigans to spur her on, it just feels like Lucy is spinning her wheels. To be fair, the climax goes a long way to getting things back on course. The other shoe finally drops and Ben really gives Lucy something to worry about.
A film like Lucky wouldn't work at all if it didn't have solid performances at its core. When wild tonal swings are the order of the day, talented actors are required to impose a sort of skewed logic on events. Ari Graynor and Colin Hanks are more than up to the task set before them. While Hanks uses his babyfaced innocence to undercut Ben's viciousness, Graynor positively shines in the most demanding performance of the film. Lucy is complicated, funny, spacey and more than a little monstrous herself. Graynor embodies Lucy without breaking a sweat. Of the supporting cast, Ann-Margret is delightful as Ben's mom who may or may not know about her son's extracurricular activities. Watch the scene where she dances around the issue while Lucy tries to pin her down and marvel at how much she leaves unsaid. Even Jeffrey Tambor gets in on the fun with the small part of a befuddled detective assigned to track down Ben's victims.