Of all the sports that filmmakers have used as a metaphor for life, poker has the juiciest potential since success involves deceit and manipulation—ripe material for interpersonal conflict. But Curtis Hanson's poker dramedy Lucky You prefers to pass the time with a lifeless love story and interminable, fawning scenes of table jockeys plying their yawn-inducing trade.
Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is a Las Vegas-based professional poker player. He's a blaster, we're repeatedly told—a poker shark whose recklessness can cost him money. Huck is a smooth one except in the presence of his legendary poker champion father L.C. (thank God for Robert Duvall), who once hocked his wife's wedding ring for poker money. Huck's confidence wavers whenever L.C. enters the room, and, while his reticence toward his estranged father constitutes whatever is right with this movie, L.C.'s attitude toward Huck doesn't track. The elder Cheever doesn't seem averse to a better relationship with his son, but he's still quite happy bankrupting him at every gaming opportunity.
We're supposed to root for Huck because we want him to reconcile with L.C., or at least realize he doesn't have to live in his shadow. But there's not much to root for, especially when the motorcycle-riding ne'er-do-well steals cash from the purse of Billie (Drew Barrymore), who has arrived in Sin City from Bakersfield to pursue a singing career. Billie is the movie's major problem. A placeholder for a more vibrant love interest, Billie makes sweeping pronouncements about her and Huck's relationship after 10 minutes of screen time. Though selling such a poorly drawn character couldn't have been easy, the weightless Barrymore still reduces every line of dialogue to base, romantic-comedy drivel. Bana's assignment—projecting the emotional life of a character whose livelihood requires him to be impenetrable—is difficult and ultimately fruitless.
Hanson's ( L.A. Confidential , 8 Mile ) interest in his characters pales compared to his zest for gaming verisimilitude, which reaches wasteful heights in the recreation of the Bellagio Hotel as it appeared in 2003, the year this film should have been released. America's poker fetish has cooled since then, although no one told Hanson, who makes poker about as exciting as watching a sleeping man dream about playing solitaire.
The whole movie, really, can't muster up much enthusiasm for itself, even managing to waste a Robert Downey Jr. cameo. There is one terrific scene, where Huck takes his World Series of Poker entrance fee and plays a fast-paced game with L.C. at a diner. Whenever father and son play out their relationship through cards, the film has a chance. Otherwise, Lucky You is drowsy and unsure of itself, bad news if you're a poker player or a movie.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall and Debra Messing
Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenwriters: Eric Roth & Curtis Hanson
Producer: Denise Di Novi, Curtis Hanson and Carol Fenelon
Genre: Romantic drama
Rating: PG-13 for some language and sexual humor
Running time: 123 min.
Release date: May 4, 2007