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The curse comes off Hal Ashby's offbeat comedy thriller -- and Angelina Jolie gets a new screen credit.
1982's Lookin' to Get Out is back in an entirely new version, thanks to the intervention of its star Jon Voight. The original release garnered "disappointing" reviews and did very little business, seriously damaging the career of Hal Ashby. The director of the cult hit Harold and Maude became a casualty of a film culture that abandoned 70s experimentation in favor of the Spielberg-Lucas brand of traditional escapism.
Ex- editor Hal Ashby was fresh from the prestige successes Shampoo, Coming Home and Being There. If you count critical hits, he was one of the most successful of the 70s directors. His Lookin' to Get Out is a hyper comedy thriller about gambling and irresponsibility. Alex Kovac and Jerry Feldman (Jon Voight & Burt Young) are New York gamblers with a talent for turning success into disaster. Flush from a big win, Alex blows it all in a card game with some local hoods. The boys flee to Las Vegas in an unlikely scheme to make up their losses. The irrationally optimistic Alex takes things to the brink by accepting a complimentary booking into the MGM Grand's "Dr. Zhivago Suite" -- the check-in clerk mistakes Jerry for a close associate of hotel owner Bernie Gold (Richard Bradford). Alex digs up ex- master gambler Smitty (the hilarious Burt Remsen), and using money advanced by the hotel, stakes him to a wild game of blackjack. Meanwhile, Jon's other past catches up with him as well. Gold's present girlfriend Patti Warner (Ann-Margret) wants to see if Jon has reformed -- and to introduce him to the four year-old daughter he's never met.
The Hollywood press publicized the behind-the-scenes battles on Lookin' to Get Out long before its release. When Ashby moved on, Lorimar cut the film without his input, and the film as released represented little of the director's original intention. Made at a time when production costs were ballooning, Lookin' cost $17 million and didn't even clear the $1 million mark at the box office. After the debacle of Heaven's Gate, Ashby's film became another "proof" that Hollywood needed to rein in the power of film directors.
Twenty-five years later, Ashby biographer Nick Dawson told Lookin' star and co-writer Jon Voight about a longer cut of the film donated to the UCLA Film Archive for safekeeping. This "Extended Version" is a full fifteen minutes longer. The extra footage adds more than character scenes and detail; it's an alternate editorial version all the way through. Jon Voight: "Cut for cut it's a different picture. Every scene has been played with."
In the shorter 1982 version Jon Voight's Alex comes across as destructive and unlikable, a guy who always seems to be shouting and making a scene. The new in-between material gives Alex more of a human balance, and includes sentimental notes missing in the original cut. With the emphasis on character touches restored, the film seems less rushed and cartoonish. Lookin' to Get Out is still the randy adventures of a couple of ambitious lowlifes, but the new cut turns the film around by restoring its oddball pacing. The same manic climaxes are there, with the key difference that we now care what happens to the foolhardy heroes.
Ashby's film is now an entirely new experience, a genuine Screwball comedy. Alex Kovac is a dreamer who believes he can find a way out of any crisis, even when gangsters have threatened to kill him. He plays every situation to the brink, luxuriating in a suite meant for an Arab prince while betting his life that the craggy old Smitty -- who has a serious heart condition -- can prevail at the blackjack table. Jerry Feldman is Alex's slower-thinking sidekick, in over his head and wondering if he should pull Alex back before both of their necks are chopped off. Jerry makes a pass at Patti, not realizing that she's just peeking in to see if Alex has matured any in the past few years. When Patti sees that the opposite is the case, she does what she can to protect her ex- boyfriend from the wrath of the Las Vegas establishment. Things come to a head during the crucial blackjack game, when the New York thugs and the hotel owner converge simultaneously on our foolhardy heroes.
Had this version of Lookin' to Get Out been released in 1982, it could have been a special event in Hal Ashby's filmography. In this looser cut, it's a more commercial proposition than Robert Altman's California Split, another story of compulsive gamblers. Warners' new release will hopefully redeem Lookin's filmic reputation.
Lookin' to Get Out is now quite a different experience, but its rebirth can't undo the damage sustained by a number of careers. Jon Voight made only five pictures in the following decade. It also marked a downturn for Ann-Margret, who began to turn to TV work. Hal Ashby continued to direct but never recovered his momentum before his early death only a few years later.
The Extended Cut restores the very first performance of Angelina Jolie. The four year-old Jolie is very recognizably herself in a brief but cute reunion scene with Alex Kovac. It's too bad that Warners missed a Father's Day release date for the new DVD, as the father-daughter sparks between Jolie and Voight give Lookin' to Get Out an added kick of nostalgia.
Warner Home Entertainment's Extended Cut DVD release of Lookin' to Get Out is a transfer of Hal Ashby's one-of-a-kind archived print, and therefore is a few clicks below transfer perfection. Only by looking at the original trailer do we see that Haskell Wexler's original cinematography was slightly richer and sharper. The new version has nothing to hide.
Laurent Bouzereau's new featurette The Cast Looks Back investigates the Lookin' experience through interviews with Jon Voight, Burt Young and Ann-Margret. Co-screenwriter Al Schwartz recalls dreaming up the story idea on a Las Vegas bender with actor Joe Turkel. All share their memories of Ashby, and praise the work of cinematographer Wexler and the legendary production designer Robert Boyle. The featurette ends with some funny on-camera exchanges between Voight and Ann-Margret, who jokingly corrects Voight on her name.
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