Bet Your Life (2004)- * * *
Directed by: Louis Morneau
Starring: Billy Zane, Sean Carrigan, Corrine Van Ryck De Groot
Sonny Briggs (Carrigan) is a limo driver in Las Vegas. He also happens to be a degenerate gambler who owes money to mobsters and loan sharks all over town. That seems to be why Carmen Rawlins (Van Ryck de Groot) is after him. Briggs's prayers seem to answered when a mysterious figure named Joseph (Zane) offers him 2.4 million dollars. All Briggs has to do is stay alive for 24 hours while Joseph and his goons hunt him down. Reluctantly, Briggs agrees to the rules, and they're off and running. Sonny flees to Cleveland, but Joseph follows. Will Sonny survive all the chases, shooting, and blow-ups in order to "survive the game" and collect his cash? Or did he take it too seriously when Joseph encouraged him to BET YOUR LIFE?
In 2004, there was a reality show on NBC called The Next Action Star. It's a good idea for a show, and out of all the competitors, Sean Carrigan emerged as the winner. This is his "coming out party", if you will, as the Next Action Star in all of our lives. His co-star Corinne Van Ryck de Groot had even less experience. Carrigan wasn't a complete newcomer; he had been on some shows before. He more or less wins the audience over with his Chris Jericho-esque looks and charm. Perhaps the best thing to do with him was to put him in a tried-and-true Most Dangerous Game/Surviving the Game/Hard Target/Death Ring-type situation where he's being hunted and he's on the run. Van Ryck de Groot later ended up in Chokehold (2019).
Of course, as an extension of the reality show, Bet Your Life is a telefilm that originally aired on NBC. Thanks in large part to the producing power of Joel Silver, there is a lot of production value on the screen, such as helicopters, blow-ups, and larger action setpieces. Likely the whole idea of a gambler in an action scenario evolved into the Wesley Snipes show The Player, also on NBC.
Perhaps hedging their bets, to turn a phrase, the filmmakers got Billy Zane to be the baddie. Smart move. Thank GOODNESS for Billy Zane in this movie. It's really Billy unleashed and he gets to act wacky and zany. Or, should we say, Zane-y. They must have given him free reign here, and that was smart. Zane holds the viewers' attention with seeming ease and acts as a counterweight to the more meatheaded performance of Carrigan.
Another smart thing the filmmakers did was infuse a lot of humor into the proceedings, and the end result is something tongue-in-cheek that they weren't taking entirely seriously. That works in Bet Your Life's favor, because you can't really go the dark and dour route with Sean Carrigan at the helm.
So, as a part of action film history, Bet Your Life is noteworthy, because it's the first actioner to feature a reality show contest winner. If Carrigan had lost, and they couldn't have gotten Corinne Van Ryck de Groot, they could have cast Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tori Spelling instead. Either way, as long as Billy Zane is there, we're in good hands.
As a telefilm with light-hearted violence, no nudity or bad language and featuring a reality show contest winner, Bet Your Life is a pretty fun way to spend 85 minutes.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty