As Carl Hiaasen, once a quirky cult writer, has become a book-a-year best-selling author, his Florida crime novels (Strip Tease, Stormy Weather) have suffered: These days, they’re about as subtle — and as plausible — as Road Runner cartoons. If you enjoy his slash-and-burn comedies, he’ll still entertain you, but he’s sacrificed growth for speed. That’s all too clear in his latest, Lucky You, which has a fresh yet familiar batch of heroes and villains, crackpots and rednecks, hustlers and fools. As usual, the Sunshine State ends up looking like the world’s largest freak show.
Two winning tickets are sold in a lotto game with a $28 million jackpot. One of the winners is JoLayne Lucks, a 30-year-old black woman who aims to use the money to save an animal habitat. Holding the second ticket are thuggish white supremacists named Bode and Chub, who plot to pool their winnings and finance a militia. When greed kicks in, they decide to steal JoLayne’s ticket and keep the whole $28 mil for themselves.
Nothing is deadlier to antic comedy than real violence, so Hiaasen wisely skips over the blow by blows when his two wannabe militiamen travel to JoLayne’s gimcrack tourist town and beat her up. As the pair flee to the Florida Keys, they’re pursued by Lucks and Tom Krome, a cynical newspaperman. Do Tom and JoLayne discover they love each other? Of course they do. And do the bad guys get their fatal comeuppance? See answer above.
The outcome is never in doubt; the suspense, practically zero. The premise and the chase — and especially the characters — are just excuses for Hiaasen’s America the Stupid riffs, which combine a Dave Barry-like smugness with the kind of cultural potshots Mad magazine takes. Everything from survivalist folly to religious fanaticism is lampooned with gusto; so are marriage, divorce, race relations, and Hooters restaurants. The sledgehammer wackiness never flags, but Lucky You is finally fatiguing. It’s too obvious, too long, too smart-alecky, and way too desperate to please. C+