Seriously? This is the latest entry in the film catalog of the man who directed L.A. Confidential, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, and The River Wild? Curtis Hanson should know better. In his hands, Lucky You should have been a tension-filled, taught 98 minutes about love, life and how everything hinges on the turn of a card. Instead, it’s a lazy 124 minutes with very few surprises and a card game that goes on forever. In other words, a perfect date film.
Eric Bana plays Huck Cheever, a hot shot poker player, who is known as much for the risks he takes as the pots. He’s not a compulsive gambler, though. That much is made clear. He never bets on anything that isn’t in his power to win. That’s why he plays poker. It’s the only game in Vegas where you are not playing the house. Instead, you’re playing the other people at your table and in that realm, Cheever is a born genius. He picked up the poker playing bug from his dad, L.C. (Robert Duvall), himself a two time World Series of Poker Champion.
Into this world drops Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore). It’s not surprising she falls for Huck. Who wouldn’t? He’s handsome, smart, will tell you exactly what you want to hear, and he’ll steal the money out of your purse. He’s perfect! Add Robert Duvall into this mess as L.C. and you have the makings of some fine dramatic tension.
So where does this film go wrong? It starts with Drew Barrymore. While the actress is very easy on the eyes, here her acting has fewer notes than a Ramones concert. She keeps everything at the same level and that level is a notch above comatose. It’s a wonder that Bana, who does a very credible job, is able to convince the audience she’s the one to pull him away from his sordid life.
But even Barrymore couldn’t sink this piece alone. No, Hanson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is complicit. He gives his drama the pacing of a romantic comedy and that fusion just does not work. By the time we get to the last act, the final table at the 2003 World Series of Poker, we know what’s going to happen, within a degree or two of possibilities. But now that we’re just settling into the romantic rhythm, Hanson decides he needs to ratchet up the pressure and leads us through every bad beat, fatal flop and ridiculous river of that final table. When the climax hits, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to be cheering for the redemption of Huck and we just want the button to come around and blind us out of play. By the way, those are all poker terms, which, if you don’t know them when you step in to the theatre, Hanson does cleverly set up the exposition to explain it to you.
When all is said and done, the last hand mucked and the final pot raked, Huck has learned, as his father tells him, “to play poker like he lives his life and live life like he plays poker.” It’s not really giving anything away to tell you he gets the girl in the end, because that’s never in doubt. Lucky You is much more about the relationship between Huck and his father and that relationship should not be treated as casually as Hanson treats it. In the end, the film is never sure what it wants to be. And that’s a shame, because there are two or three good films trying to emerge from this mediocre one.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)