Screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz were hot after American Graffiti, scoring a huge purchase price for their screenplay Lucky Lady, which gene-spliced the music-driven ribaldry of Cabaret (1972) with the twisty plotting of The Sting (1973). An impressive roster of A-list talents converged on the project, including director Stanley Donen and the three stars billed above the title: Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and Cabaret Oscar-winner Liza Minnelli. Cabaret vets working behind the camera include cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth and songwriters Fred Ebb and John Kander. But even with all of this cinematic firepower, and a hefty budget of $13 million, Lucky Lady is little more than a well-made train wreck.
The main problem is that expensive script, which puts three despicable characters into an icky housekeeping arrangement. After an unnecessarily convoluted set-up, Prohibition-era schemers Kibby (Hackman), Claire (Minnelli), and Walker (Reynolds) become rum-runners sailing their ship, the Lucky Lady, back and forth between Mexico and the U.S., chased by a homicidal Coast Guard captain (Geoffrey Lewis) and a ruthless fellow bootlegger (John Hillerman). Half of the picture is devoted to criminal intrigue, including several high-seas shootouts, so the movie’s frothy tone disappears whenever the story turns dark and violent, which is often. The other half of the picture is devoted to the farce of Kibby and Walker competing for Claire; she moves back and forth between their beds until all three finally sleep together. Why these two men are so excited by the abrasive Claire is as mystifying as why viewers are expected to care about any of them, since all three are deceitful, shallow, and tiresome. (Supporting player Robby Benson, as a Lucky Lady shipmate, adds the film’s only glimmer of sweetness.)
With its painfully episodic structure, the movie feels much longer than its 118-minute running time, and Unsworth goes berserk with his signature haze filters, making some images almost indecipherable. The stars try valiantly to make the material work, with Reynolds thriving in his light-comedy métier and Minnelli belting out a few numbers, but aside from the production values and star power, there’s little to recommend in Lucky Lady.
Lucky Lady: LAME