At its loosest and most inventive, the generally diverting Rake often recalls the one-damn-thing-after-another eccentricity of Carl Hiaasen’s comic crime novels. The hero, Keegan Joy (Greg Kinnear), is that Hollywood specialty: the unthreateningly disheveled rascal, constantly causing trouble of no true consequence, who can always be counted on to inspire forgiveness with just a flash or two of his well-practiced smile. Keegan’s a defense attorney who desperately and cynically takes on only the most hopeless of clients because they plead guilty quickly, allowing him to move on to the next theoretically instant paycheck. And instant, we soon learn, is the only route of payment that Keegan can afford to accept, as he’s a boozer and a gambling addict who owes a dangerous amount of money to a pack of unseen gangsters who employ Roy (Omar J. Dorsey) to occasionally swing by and beat the shit out of him in an unsuccessful effort to keep Keegan on a personal payment plan.
Rake goes down easily: The pace is sprightly, the dialogue amusing, and the cast, which includes Miranda Otto and Tara Summers as Keegan’s respective ex-wife and assistant/probable Girl Friday, has a confident grasp of the intended low-key, seemingly tossed-off comic tone. Kinnear’s particularly comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, as one can’t help but associate Keegan with the parody the actor once did of such a role in Honey and the Beez, a fake television series that figured prominently in Stuck on You. That Honey and the Beez, a 15-year-old reference to a variety of outlandishly gimmicky television shows produced 20 years before it, can be so readily applied to Rake gives you an idea of its contrivance and ultimate meaninglessness. The series is timeless in the sense that it proves that certain TV clichés are so far incapable of dying.
Rake’s toothlessness is an eventual rub, as this is a series about a man with a variety of the usual addictions who frequently commits the usual accompanying indiscretions (destroyed cars, black outs, endlessly crashing at friends’ homes), which are always shrugged off by both the law and the reliably beautiful women who simply can’t get enough of Keegan’s carefree disregard of protocol. In other words, Keegan isn’t meant to realistically reflect an addict, not really, but the fantasy that the true addict entertains as he or she tumbles further and further down the abyss: that, sure, they’re blowing their lives to holy hell, but out of a rebellion against the shackles of the Man, rather than from a pursuit of a buzz that enables them to check out from reality just a little bit longer.
Of course, Rake is a high-concept legal comedy, not a drama about addiction rehabilitation, but the point is that the laughs could occasionally stand to come from a place of actual danger, or maybe even from a less sexist sensibility that’s capable of envisioning the possibility that the women in Keegan’s life might legitimately tire of his antics. So far, Dorsey is the only cast member in sync with the darker, more interesting comedy inherent in the source material (the Australian series of the same name), as he imbues Roy with a palpable sense of submerged violence that’s rendered all the scarier for the character’s apparently authentic affection for his potential victim. Roy could’ve been a cartoon thug, but instead he’s allowed to gratifyingly embody the demons that truly threaten to carry an addict away into a realm of chaos. He gives this fun but smug series a little bite.