Luck is a broken movie in so many ways that I’m not sure where to start. But I need to find an entry point into this ungainly mess, so let’s start with the fundamentals. Something I take for granted in high-budget CGI films in 2022 is their technical competence. The films may not look good, per se, but they will be functionally animated in such a way that I’m not constantly noticing missing or broken components of the film. Not so for Luck. Several scenes have vacuous, frozen backgrounds, as if the animators ran out of time to fill out anything other than the main focus of the frame. Worse yet, a few scenes actually have plugged in characters or objects in the horizon that simply hold still, as if the rigging team just ran out of time. It’s like a cryo-frozen, soulless toy warehouse.
Even more distracting are the character faces. There is something so uncanny about them. The designs are bland but fine; the problem is the movements. Whenever any character speaks or emotes, the cheeks hold completely still while the lower jaw moves, as if everyone got a heavy injection of botox the night before. It creates a sensation I haven’t experienced in years while watching an animated movie: it feels like the voices are piped in rather than being “spoken” by the characters.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. It is the Skydance Animation’s first feature, and maybe their production pipeline didn’t exist yet (though I should point out that Illumination’s first movie in 2010, Despicable Me, was perfectly serviceable from a visual perspective). And it seems probable that most of the animation kinks will get sorted out in subsequent features (of which Skydance apparently already has several greenlit). Plus, Luck had a famously bumpy production, getting a new producer and director halfway into its creation, so some battle scars and growing pains are inevitable.
But it’s not only the visuals in Luck that doesn’t work. This movie wants so, so desperately to be a Pixar movie (in the way that we used the phrase “Pixar movie” circa 2015). More specifically, it wants to be a Pete Docter movie. The premise is that habitually unlucky orphan Sam (Eva Noblezada) discovers a secret world where good and bad luck are created and shipped to earth. She tries to find some extra good luck for one of her orphan friends who wants to get adopted. It’s the kind of logline that someone who was trying to come up with a fake Pixar movie in about three minutes would pitch. There’s the postmodern deconstruction of some unknowable concept (a very Docter paradigm), naked emotional manipulation, and suggestions of profound truths and revelations.
But the execution of it is so exhaustingly dull that nobody would ever mistake this as a peak Pixar film, or even a post-peak Pixar film. Say what you will about Lightyear and its busted narrative structure, but it at least sparkled with visual craft and had some worthy, if ill-executed, ideas in it. A few good scenes, for sure. The total number of good scenes in Luck is two, both in the first act: First, when we see Sam’s bad luck in motion in her new apartment and get some fun slapstick gags. Second, when we see Bob (Simon Pegg) — a lucky-or-maybe-unlucky cat — use the magic of good luck to effortlessly escape a pursuer on the city streets.
The script is overflowing with underdeveloped ideas, including Sam as a deeply uninteresting protagonist. But one bit that really bothered me was how ill-conceived the notion of “luck” is. Sometimes it’s trivial stuff, like dropping toast jelly-side down. Other times, it’s life-altering stuff, like whether you’re an orphan or get adopted. Even the word “luck” itself is amorphous: sometimes it’s the name of a place, sometimes a physical thing, and sometimes an ethereal concept like “hope.” It makes the syntax of dialogue very ambiguous. If they mention a character “has luck” it could mean seventeen different things. That’s just lazy, thoughtless worldbuilding.
There are a bunch of characters who seem like they were sketched out to be interesting and colorful but were given essentially nothing to do — mostly mythical creatures, including a leprechaun voiced by Whoopi Goldberg — and thus fade into the background. And the large majority of the set pieces lack any visual coherence or energy. So many scenes that want to be joyous fun are just a few visual gags or ideas tediously designed, flatly rendered, and lazily stitched together, like a gimmick about alternating gravity or a mishap at the “luck factory.”
Luck is not entirely devoid of cinematic ideas, especially in the first act as we discover the imbalance in Sam’s luck. The first fifteen minutes are even, dare I say it, watchable. I think a kid who is inoculated to inane CGI and who hasn’t seen Monsters, Inc. might think some of this is clever. But my kids got bored, and not many movies bore them. Its 105 minutes feel a half hour longer than that. In all, bad luck for Skydance Studios on their first outing.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film