Luck is a worn-out movie device

THE GRIPE

May 12, 2006|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

When a character in Poseidon announces he isn't called "Lucky" for nothing, you just know he'll be pulped in seconds. Audiences snort when he comes to an abrupt and mangled end. They're trying to signal that it's time to retire "luck" as a gimmick from pop culture. As the poor man's version of destiny, "luck" has been overused so long it's lost any magical charm or even the tang of cheap irony.

On the lighter side, Just My Luck, the new Lindsay Lohan romance, follows a chic Manhattanite whose good fortune ends when she kisses a bad-luck boy at a masquerade party. Lohan wants to graduate to adult farce. But with this kind of desperate whimsy, can a PG-13 feature from Fox like Just My Luck match Lohan's PG Disney high-water mark, 2003's Freaky Friday?

On the darker side, Woody Allen's turgid erotic melodrama Match Point, now a top seller on DVD, elevates luck into a tenet of philosophy. In a tendentious script that inexplicably won an Oscar nomination, the antihero explains, "The man who said `I'd rather be lucky than good' saw deeply into life." The narrator compares luck's impact to the moment when a tennis ball hits the top of a net. "With a little luck, the ball goes over, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose."

Or maybe you tire of pseudo-wisdom, and you flip on another DVD.

The superior movie that inspired Match Point, George Stevens' 1951 A Place in the Sun, hinges on an awful accident: The working-class mistress (Shelley Winters) of the upwardly mobile antihero (Montgomery Clift) drowns right after he decides not to kill her. But he knows he felt homicidal in his heart. His feelings of guilt cloud his defense, despite his blazing desire to be with his upper-crust true love (Elizabeth Taylor). Character collides with circumstance to determine the poor man's fate. And that's what makes Stevens' movie -- to borrow the title of Theodore Dreiser's source novel -- an American tragedy, and not just the tale of an unlucky match.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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