Unbeknownst to many, including star/co-writer Jon Voight, Ashby had donated a copy of his own cut to the film school at UCLA. That version - which Voight happily says represents Ashby's vision through and through - is being released on DVD June 30, under the title Lookin' to Get Out - Extended Cut, courtesy of Warner Home Video.
Voight plays Alex Kovac, a hardcore gambler who comes to tell best friend/gambling partner Jerry (Burt Young) some good news and bad news: he won enough money to pay off the debt they owe to some New York mobsters, but then gambled it and lost even more. In a last ditch effort to earn the money before getting their kneecaps broken, Alex and Jerry fly to Vegas, where they con their way into a comped suite (and a variety of other perks) at the MGM Grand. Alex's big plan involves getting Smitty (Bert Remsen), a waiter who used to be an expert gambler, to take their small amount of cash and turn it into big winnings at the poker table. While in Vegas, Alex also runs into old flame Patti (Ann-Margret), who reveals that her seven year-old daughter is the product of their union. Incidentally, the daughter is played by Voight's real-life offspring Angelina Jolie, in her film debut.
While the plot of Lookin' to Get Out may seem to be a run-of-the-mill story about gamblers trying to make the Big Score, the film's tone is kind of unique. I never saw the studio-approved cut, but Ashby's version is less about whether or not Alex and Jerry win, and more about how their personalities handle the pressure. The more desperate things become, the more level-headed Jerry gets; he wants to walk away. Alex, on the other hand, gets fired up, apparently believing that after so much bad luck something good is destined to happen. The movie finds humor in human behavior, as these chronic gamblers have very different reactions to a high stakes situation.
This attention to human detail is what traditionally marked Hal Ashby's work. It's also what I liked most about Lookin' to Get Out. We've seen dozens of pictures about gamblers trying to win big. This story, really, is more about the stakes Alex and Jerry face in life rather than the ones they face in the casino. No wonder it made the studio nervous. The stereotypical "rolling in the dough" finale is nowhere to be found here, because that really isn't what this film is about.
I think this represents one of Jon Voight's best performances. He makes Alex manic, impulsive, and desperate all at the same time, all without ever sacrificing our ability to empathize with him. If Voight has the showier role, Burt Young counters him by giving the more nuanced. His Jerry is a man of few words, although he speaks volumes with his expressions and gestures. Ann-Margret's character is less fleshed out, but she shares some very effective emotional scenes with Voight.
Lookin' to Get Out - Extended Cut has been transferred beautifully to DVD. A disclaimer before the film states that picture quality in some newly-added sequences will be less clear than in already-existing ones, but honestly, I couldn't tell the difference, save for an almost imperceptible amount of grain in a few images. All in all, the movie looks great on disc.
I cannot talk specifically about what's been added or changed because, as I mentioned, I never saw the studio cut. That said, I understand the film's initially chilly reception. Perhaps it was deserved. According to all the press materials and the bonus features, this version feels substantially different, and the version I saw was both entertaining and satisfying. Hal Ashby's cut of Lookin' to Get Out is a movie that deserves to be rediscovered.
( out of four)
Lookin' to Get Out - Extended Edition is released on DVD June 30 in widescreen format. Picture and sound quality are quite good, especially considering the film is over 25 years old.
In addition to the original theatrical trailer, the disc contains an excellent documentary called "The Cast Looks Back." In it, Voight, Young, and Ann-Margret share their memories of the production and relate antidotes about Hal Ashby who, they all agree, was a wonderful man. The stars also express their excitement over this new cut. Voight is particularly effusive, pointing out that, as co-writer and star, he knows the movie as well as anybody. He says that every single scene here is in some way different than the studio cut. It is, according to him, a true reflection of what Ashby was trying to create. "The Cast Looks Back" is a really informative companion piece to the movie itself.
The theatrical trailer is also included.
Incidentally, you can also get Lookin' to Get Out as part of Warner Home Video's Directors' Showcase: Take 4 box set, which also includes the director's cut of Hugh Hudson's Revolution, John Boorman's Beyond Rangoon, Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, and David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly.
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