REVIEW | ‘Luck at First Sight’ has an easy charm, doesn’t push its luck

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Bela Padilla and Jericho Rosales in 'Luck at First Sight.'

In real life, the chances of stumbling upon your lucky charm in an instant are slim. In “Luck at First Sight,” that is exactly what happens.

Joma (Jericho Rosales), an incorrigible gambler, crosses paths with Diane (Bela Padilla) out on the sidewalk, and begins to suspect that she can be his “life charm,” the one he shares a winning chemistry with that will spell an end to all his financial troubles.

Once you get past that contrivance, Dan Villegas’s latest romantic effort is easy to embrace. The drama is not overstrained, the tone is light and breezy, each frame meticulously composed and beautifully shot.

And Villegas has found two fine actors who have an easy chemistry, not the loveteam-kind of chemistry but more of the variety that tells you that this is a pair of performers who knows how to put just the right amount of enthusiasm and passion into what they do.

As a gambler who is more comfortable with taking chances than doing “real work,” Jericho Rosales certainly has not looked more relaxed on screen. Gone is the actor’s tendency to make all his body parts work in full throttle to convey emotions.

This time, the puppy eyes are used quietly and yet intensely when necessary, most remarkably in that scene in the casino where his and Bela’s winning streak starts to falter. The actor also looks very well-preserved and shows a hardly tapped gift for comedy.

As a foil to Jericho’s compulsive gambler character, the dutiful daughter that Bela Padilla portrays is more grounded and believes in hard work despite her lack of fortune. In “Luck at First Sight,” Bela offers proof that her deeply felt performance as the girl who is having a hard time smarting up from a heartache in “Camp Sawi” was no fluke.

There is an early scene where, after their electric power has been cut off due to non-payment of bills, she and her cousin (Kim Molina) joke about how if she had worn green that day they would have been spared from bad luck.

The camera closes in on Bela as the laughter leaves her face and traces of tears appear in her eyes as she tells Molina: “Pero alam naman nating kahit nag-green ako mapuputulan pa rin tayo ng kuryente kasi hindi tayo nagbabayad eh.”

Caring for a sick father (Dennis Padilla), Bela’s character struggles in trying to keep their small pharmacy business afloat. Left with little choice, she agrees to Jericho’s offer to form a “business tandem.” Everything that they earn from all kinds of gambling – from gambling joints to basketball games to horse races – they will equally divide between them.

There is one cardinal rule that earlier a fortune teller advised Jericho about. You cannot fall in love with your life charm. Of course, it’s a trap that Joma and Diane eventually fall into.

The movie’s message that hard work is key to attaining success is arrived at without overtly spelling it out. And that is to Villegas and the screenwriter’s credit. One minor quibble though: that narrative thread concerning Jericho’s family’s old house that has been foreclosed by the bank is left hanging by film’s end.

By now, Villegas is already a master of the genre (romantic comedy-drama) and his films work because they are not convoluted, burdened by too many subplots and stock characters. Villegas tells a story directly, with a fresh approach, and embellishes it with nifty directorial touches, like the dialogue-less series of shots after Dennis Padilla’s character’s death.

One, however, wishes that Villegas would be braver in his next excursions on the genre. Perhaps a little commentary on why Filipinos are drawn to gambling would have made “Luck at First Sight” a more incisive fare. Or in his earlier Sarah Geronimo-Piolo Pascual topbilled effort “The Breakup Playlist,” potshots at the ills that plague the local music industry would have been more illuminating.

Villegas has all the skills and sensibilities to take chances as the lead characters in “Luck at First Sight” do.

Produced by Viva Films and N2 Productions, “Luck at First Sight” is currently playing in theaters nationwide.