The '80s were not kind to Hal Ashby, who directed a number of enduring classics in the '70s (Harold and Maude, Bound for Glory, Being There), but whose career in the subsequent decade plummeted hard and fast. Among the flops that dominated Ashby's last years is Lookin' to Get Out, a collaboration with Jon Voight that was critically drubbed and mostly forgotten — notable only for featuring a 5-year-old Angelina Jolie in her screen debut.
But the story got interesting when Voight, through an Ashby biographer and Ashby's daughter, discovered there existed a different cut of the film — a cut that Ashby himself edited after being unsatisfied with the studio release. This extended version is about 15 minutes longer, and features radically different cuts and takes than the theatrical release, at least according to Voight.
Now released on DVD, it marks the first time the film has been available on the format in any version. I'm not familiar with the theatrical cut, but even with Ashby's hand guiding this one, it doesn't really work. The tone is consistent, and Ashby's intentions are good, but the script is rather lifeless, buoyed only by a manic, flailing performance by Voight that seems brilliant at some points, but sloppy at a lot more.
Voight (who co-wrote the script with Al Schwartz) stars as Alex Kovac, a compulsive gambler who wins $9,000 one night in a spurt of good luck, but then proceeds to lose it all, and another $10,000 on top of that in the next breath. In debt for a lot more than he's got, Kovac flees New York City with hapless buddy Jerry Feldman (Burt Young) to Las Vegas.
Kovac has a plan to get the money back — have his buddy impersonate a Vegas high roller at the MGM Grand, and use a con man to win big at blackjack. While there, he runs into former flame Patti Warner (Ann-Margret), whom he discovers has a child (Jolie) who is actually his.
Lookin' to Get Out is meant to be a character study, but this tends to get lost among the muddled script. Ultimately, we do get some insight into the main characters at the end of the film when Kovac realizes how his reckless tendencies have hurt those around him, and there are some small glimmers of this idea along the way, but who he is as a character never seems fully fleshed out.
No one is all that likable in the film — a potential strength which it maybe should've played up more. There are some laughs at the expense of the sleazebags that populate this cinematic world, but the more misanthropic — and not just obnoxious — Kovac could have been would've helped.
I'm glad to see Warner finally releasing this film; it's by no means a classic, and pales in comparison to a lot of Ashby's previous work, but it's not an utter disaster, despite the production that apparently was just that.
Included on the DVD is a featurette with new interviews from Voight, Ann-Margret, Young, and Schwartz. It touches on the troubled history of the film, and how Voight got his hands on this print, but it could have been a lot more in-depth. A theatrical trailer is also included.