Title: Lucky You
Play time: 2h 3min
Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenwriters: Eric Roth
Starring: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall
There’s a whole lot of explaining going on in Lucky You. First, of course, the movie takes the time to explain Texas Hold ’em poker for the novices in the audience — understandable, given the third act’s reliance on the mechanics of the game, and the film’s target romantic comedy audience. By now on a roll, it decides to also go ahead and explain the characters, the plot, the themes, and the subtext, punctuating the screenplay’s every move with a handy bit of exposition. The trailers prominently feature Robert Duvall telling his son:
“You play cards the way you should lead your life, and you lead your life the way you should play cards.”
Had the screenplay let me come to this conclusion on my own, I might have been giddy with admiration; having it spoonfed to me just made me ornery.
Predictable Long Poker Games in Lucky You
As others before me have pointed out, poker — a long-run game of patience and skill — is not the most cinematic of activities. Real world-class players in real tournaments spend the vast majority of their time folding, and straight flushes don’t happen very often at all. The last forty minutes of Lucky You predictably make mincemeat out of this unfortunate truth, though it seems churlish to complain since the poker is far and away the best part of the movie. For one thing, the characters occasionally shut up when they’re playing. For another, we get to see real-life poker prodigies in “action,” and actors who seem for all the world like they could be real-life prodigies, such as the brilliant Jean Smart as the token female at the final table: I very much wanted the film to abandon Eric Bana and his angst, and follow her around instead.
A Good Sports Movie
The poker scenes may be nonsense, but they at least have the dynamic of a good sports movie. All the other stuff tends to range from misguided to excruciating. Bana plays Huck Cheever, a poker pro and a compulsive gambler in a two-for-one deal; the movie follows him all over Vegas as he tries to raise the $10K World Series of Poker entrance fee and woo adorable lounge singer Billie (Drew “Adorable” Barrymore).
With respect to the former, Lucky You is schizophrenic: on one hand, the oppressively neon Vegas backdrop and the alternately obsessive and pathetic cast of characters give the proceedings a melancholy feel, and the movie threatens to take on an additional dimension before (on the other hand) undercutting itself with a ridiculous sequence in which Huck attempts to run five miles and play 18 holes of golf in three hours or less for ten thousand dollars. Random outbursts like a flamboyant one-scene Robert Downey, Jr. cameo as a fast-talking 1-900 therapist destroy any chance the film might have had of being a Vegas mood piece, though it does still effectively convey the impression that the city is a very depressing place. When Cheever says “this is Vegas” in response to something like “it’s getting very late,” he sounds resigned more than anything else.
The romance, meanwhile, gets a lot of little things wrong. There’s the expected scene where Huck has transgressed and grovels to get back in Billie’s good graces; I think we’re meant, as we usually are, to root for him and hope that her anger softens, except this time we can’t, because Huck stole money from her. (I mean, what would you do?) Their relationship also enters full-on hankie territory way too soon — she’s crying already? They just met! And of course, the film can’t resist poker metaphors: “What are you doing,” asks Huck as she walks away from him; “making a good fold,” she replies. That one makes less sense the more I think about it.
Lucky You is Overlong Poker Film
The last piece of the puzzle is Huck’s relationship with his poker legend of a father (Duvall). Here, again, the film is hampered by its pedantry; the supposedly meaningful back-and-forth between the two of them gets tiresome (they played poker when Huck was a kid “for nickels and dimes,” you see, and dad always won), as does the interminable business with mom’s wedding ring. A low point (besides Duvall pointing out the irony in the way Huck plays cards and the way he leads his life) is Barrymore intoning to Duvall that “maybe giving and receiving is more complicated than winning or losing.” I wanted to shout “Explain how!”
Lucky You had been in release date limbo for almost a year before being thrown to the wolves (or the spiders, as it were) in early May. That may have seemed puzzling given the pedigree (Curtis Hanson directed and co-wrote with Eric Roth), but it makes sense once you see the film, which is weirdly overwritten and overlong at 124 minutes. Poker is still waiting for its defining moment in the cinematic spotlight.