Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Charles Martin Smith, Robert Downey Jr.
MPAA Rating: (for some language and sexual humor)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 5/4/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Lucky You is about a professional poker player who plays and acts like a novice. The point of the movie is to watch him grow both as a gambler and, allegedly, a human being, but the problem is the movie cares little about him as either. It's a frustrating movie, not only because of the hazy progress of its central character but also because it ineffectively tries to mix the gambling story with elements of romantic comedy, familial drama, and strangely placed commentary on the state of poker as a sport. If it can't get the character right, obviously the movie has problems balancing genre conventions and finding a satisfactory way of merging everything on its plate. It's particularly disappointing because Lucky You was co-written and directed by Curtis Hanson, who has shown talent in finding the character niches in formula to great effect in the past. Instead, Hanson and co-screenwriter Eric Roth seem more concerned with how many complications can be racked up over the course of the movie, even if they make no sense in regards to character motivation, than with developing these characters so that we care about all the obstacles that ensue.
Our hero is Huck Cheever (Eric Bana), and yes, Huck is short for Huckleberry. Huckleberry Cheever is a funny-sounding name, but I digress. The movie starts off with a nicely written scene between Huck and a pawnbroker (Phyllis Somerville) that shows him using his knowledge of betting and bluffing as he tries to pawn off a camera and hock his father's wedding ring for playing money. He takes the $300 he raises in the exchange, takes a backdoor into the Bellagio, "swims with the guppies," and ends up with over $10,000. I should point out that Huck needs $10,000 to enter the World Series of Poker; this is what we call in drama the character's overriding goal—the sole thing the character works towards throughout the course of the story. Well, he meets a cute girl named Billie (Drew Barrymore), who's the younger sister of his friend Suzanne (Debra Messing). She warns her baby sis about Huck, but there's some sort of chemistry there. Anyway, Huck continues to play (in spite of obtaining the means to achieve his goal, mind you), is joined by two-time champ L.C. (Robert Duvall), who also happens to be his father, and ends up losing the ten grand.
Whatever is a professional gambler to do? Well, a guy named Roy (Charles Martin Smith) offers to front him the money, but he doesn't want to be in debt to anyone. So he meets his friend Jack (Robert Downey Jr. in an amusing cameo), who runs a 900-number scam, to ask him for a loan. Doesn't that contradict what we've just learned about him? Maybe it doesn't, and when Jack refuses him the money, he takes Billie out to celebrate her getting a job, using the few thousand dollars she has to teach her poker. Here we get the obligatory explanation of Texas Hold 'Em and another instance where Huck gets the money he needs only to lose it again. I think you might have caught a pattern forming here. By the by, Drew Barrymore, always playing cute in roles like this, is absolutely, legitimately adorable in her first few scenes, as Billie confuses common turns of phrase ("The leaf doesn't fall too far from the tree," or "You're one sick pony") and observes that poker is inherently cruel. So when Huck beds Billie, steals her money in the morning, wins his lot, and loses it all yet again, he's really low in the books of characters we'd call heroes.
Eric Bana does his best with the very little of the character that's sympathetic, and he's kind of charming in spite of it all. Again, though, whatever could make us with him is forgone to give him more and more opportunities to gain his entry in the tournament and lose it. There's a ridiculously drawn out sequence where he takes a bet to run five miles and play a round of golf in three hours, and at the end of it, he learns about playing fair. Then there's another lengthy scene where he plays his father in a high-stakes card game at a diner, and once again, he loses his entry fee. In that scene he learns something, too; I'm not so sure what. I should note Robert Duvall's there on screen, and even though his performance is somewhere else, the man still has presence. The dialogue between the players evokes a sense of competitive amity (the old warhorses decry the commercialization of their sport), and Las Vegas admirably looks normal for once. The poker scenes are shot and paced well, although the presence of a TV commentator in the final game, telling us who the new villains are and little tidbits we already know, is an annoyance.
That commentator, though, accurately sums up Huck's character arc in a single sentence, and it's just another reminder of how little the movie cares about this guy. In spite of it all, the movie is still sort of cute (and it has a pair of Dylan songs), but sweetness only gets you so far. Lucky You is too much about obstacles, not enough about people, and has one scene too many featuring hired goons. To clarify, one scene with hired goons is one too many in something like this.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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