In the character-driven lineage of such classics as Goodfellas, Big Lebowski, and True Romance; Walk to Vegas (written by Vincent Van Patten and Steve Alper; directed by Eric Balfour) features a brotherhood that operates on an informal black-market economy impervious to the rules of law, other than the innate sense of honor established through direct eye contact, firm handshakes, and camaraderie. It is a den of high-stakes Hollywood gamblers continuously engaging one another in ever-more outrageous ante-upping, dares and bets that culminate in our protagonist, Vincent VanPatten, attempting a walk from LA to Vegas in seven days in a suit. The characters of this instant classic — played by such greats as Eileen Davidson, Jennifer Tilly, Danny Pardo, Paul Walter Hauser, and James VanPatten, are straight out of Cervantes. The result: pure comic genius.
The film’s premise begins as a familiar one: handsome, middle-aged actor, Duke (played brilliantly by Vincent Van Patten), a onetime movie star, now finds his career unceremoniously lumbering to a halt — not unlike the way his rusted-out beater of a faded red hatchback settles heavily into the driveway after he returns home from yet another round of rejections. Now with no other recourse but to sell cleaning products in excruciating low-budget television commercials, Duke tries his hand at poker and finds that he has a true knack for the game. He and his stunner-of-a-wife, KC (the dynamic Eileen Davidson), quickly establish a weekly poker game in which everyone who is anyone soon wants to take part. The core group consists of Duke’s brother, Carl (Vincent’s real-life brother James Van Patten), Sander (Danny Pardo), Puppet Hank (Paul Walter Hauser), Angry Jim (Don Stark), and Wing (James Kyson): relatable characters, all.
One of the pure pleasures of the film is just how endearingly human these guys are — with all their foibles and flaws. They are our big brothers, our nephews, our first crushes, the neighborhood boys we ran with back in the day: evoking stickball games, paper routes, double-dog dares, and swimming holes. This comedic ensemble is a timeless one — one in which the viewer cannot wait to participate in vicariously. Thankfully, the cinematographer (Christopher Gallo) accommodates, busting cinematically through the door without even knocking, rolling the film Scorcese-style directly to the poker table where the laughs are dealt as expertly and as rapid-fire as the cards themselves. The film itself is in the style of a such cinema as Cary Grant’s Girl Friday, when it was taken as a given that an audience had the aptitude to keep up with the clever banter.
The success of Duke and KC’s poker game grows nearly as rapidly as the Quixotean cast of characters continue to grow on the viewer — with all their clumsy prank-playing antics. Word spreads through Hollywood and millionaire movie stars such as Chucky (Lucas Bryant), and Jennifer (Jennifer Tilly), soon join in the fun. This is where our antagonist comes in: hotshot director Sebastian (expertly interpreted by Ross McCall), and where Duke finally meets his match. By now, Duke is all but unbeatable: back on his feet with everything gliding along as swimmingly as his shiny red mustang slides into his driveway after yet another day of winnings. Sebastian, too, has never lost — until he meets Duke. And this is where all goes awry and the film begins to generate some heat — to the point to where we find three-piece-suit clad Duke staggering sunburnt through the California desert…
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