Unlucky doesn’t ever go so far as to have its protagonist trip over a black cat while walking under a ladder, but it does put him in a series of ominously compromising positions.
When we first meet lottery-company worker Darren (Jim Annan), he’s naked, dazed and far from home. His reward for a frigid early-morning walk of shame is a blow to the back of the head from some goons working for the local mob, collecting on a debt. When Darren can’t produce the cash – or a plausible reason for his whereabouts and his unclothed state – the bad guys make him the proverbial offer he can’t refuse: He must do them a favour, no questions asked. And, for collateral, they kidnap his late parents’ ashes.
The concept of an existentially snakebitten hero has potential, and insurmountable obstacles keep popping up in his path. All of the other major characters, including Darren’s stoned therapist (Alan Catlin) and his horndog co-worker (Josh Peace) are morons – even the potential obligatory love interest (Rachel Wilson) is a klutz (their meet-cutes usually involve accidentally slamming foreheads on the street). And each seeming stroke of good fortune, like a potentially profitable assignment to settle a multimillion-dollar jackpot claim made by a “crippled hermit,” descends into chaos and confusion.
The independent Canadian film’s commitment to this Sisyphean comic rhythm is admirable for a while, and then it grows redundant. While director Ian Robertson and his collaborators deserve credit for making Unlucky look and sound substantial on a small budget, the fact is the film just isn’t very funny. The biggest problem is the dialogue, which consistently substitutes simple crassness for wit – it’s the sound of a screenwriter chuffed by his own meanness.
Annan, a Second City alum familiar from years of roles in Canadian television, gives a measured, skillful performance in what is basically a straight-man role: Darren enters and (usually) exits his scenes with the slumped, anxious resignation of a live-action Wile E. Coyote. But the supporting actors appear to have been instructed to go big or go home, and the mugging is monotonous. Catlin’s spaced cadences are standard-issue for pothead parts, while Peace’s especially hostile performance falls short of his work in the homegrown 2009 indie comedy You Might as Well Live – a movie that had a more potent blend of nastiness and underdog sentimentality. Unlucky botches that bit of mixology and ends up in the no-man’s land between bitter and tasteless. In other words, it’s pretty bland.