Jay Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) is enjoying a meal at a restaurant with his wife Pam (Teri Garr) and as they have reached the fortune cookies they have been making a pact with one another to improve their marriage: Pam won't worry about money as much, Jay will curb his predeliction for gambling, and so on, they hope they will be a lot happier now they have this sorted out, and the good times start tomorrow when he gets back from his job driving a taxi cab. However, there's still evidence that there are issues when Pam brushes Jay's cookie with her hand and he refuses to eat it, being superstitious about that kind of thing; it's the gambler in him and that mindset is going to be difficult to shake...
Especially when there is a development at work involving his colleague Looney, played by ex-New York Dolls frontman David Johansen, who has a habit of recording the conversations of his fares when they think he cannot hear them. Jay happens to hear a snippet of two men discussing a sure thing at the racetrack, and in spite of his wife's insistence he should stay well away from there, he feels this is an omen, this being a film about betting which truly gets under the skin of the philosophy, and more importantly the superstition of that too. Although Let It Ride was pretty much a flop back in the late eighties, barely released in most territories and poorly reviewed by and large, there's something about it.
Something that whether you've ever placed a wager or not appeals in a way that discovering a movie hardly anyone else knows about but is actually a real gem does. One movie of two directed by successful commercials creator Joe Pytka (his other was the misbegotten but blockbusting Space Jam), this has been a personal discovery for a small but loyal band of fans who might have caught it on television, or perhaps rented it, or even taken a chance on buying a copy, but the effect is usually the same: with few or even no expectations, it turns out to be a movie that was well worth that chance you took, simply because it's not only relentlessly cheering, but that delight is well-earned for both the characters and you watching. The premise is simple, but fraught with tension, in that neither Jay nor us knows whether he really is on a lucky streak, or if it's all going to come crashing down around his ears.
Jay does place a hundred dollars on the horse that Looney recorded the hushed and earnest chat about, and he manages to trace them to the track and notice they do back it, so what does he have to lose? Apart from the money his wife was wanting to pay off bills, that is? But he has a good feeling about this (we are aware of that since there's a twinkly sound effect on the soundtrack, always a sure sign) and though even the man taking his money at the desk is looking cynical (and played by Robbie Coltrane in probably his finest movie role, not that he's recalled for it by many), it's true that Jay is hoping against hope that success is just around the corner. But he puts his money where his mouth is, and keeps his fingers crossed, then what do you know? He truly does win.
That would be enough for most people, but there's a need for our hero to keep returning to the track and bet all his winnings, a self-destructive need that could cost him his marriage, never mind his savings. Surrounding Dreyfuss, who goes over the top in a manner that seems necessary for what amounts to a tall story you might hear in a bookmakers among the more seasoned patrons, was a cast of character players who you couldn't imagine being better chosen, from unknowns making an impression to familiar faces like Allen Garfield as a professional (and rich) gambler, Jennifer Tilly bursting out of a tiny red dress as his girlfriend, Michelle Phillips as a wealthy indulger who tries to put Jay off, and Mary Woronov at the counter of the diner who puts yet another thought in his head. It's this sudden sense of self-belief that is as much of a bonus to a buoyant mood as it is the actual plot, which may be hard to believe, notably in the semi-mystical, God finally smiles upon you narrative quirks, but then again the odds are that it has to happen to someone, somewhere. Music by Giorgio Moroder.