Lucky You

Movie Information

The Story: Estranged father and son, both compulsive gamblers, face off against each other in the World Series of Poker. The Lowdown: A wayward, badly conceived gambling drama that thinks it's a romantic comedy and ends up wasting a good cast.
Genre: Romantic Family Drama With Poker
Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz
Rated: PG-13

When I first saw that Curtis Hanson’s long-delayed Lucky You (pushed back twice, with a poster-recall because of date changes) was opening against Spider-Man 3, I thought those responsible for such a suicidal move must have been nuts. Having seen the film, I still think they’re nuts. They should have opened it opposite upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. That way maybe no one would have seen it, and it could have drifted into obscurity unremarked. OK, maybe it’s not that actively bad, but it is that distressingly inconsequential.

It’s also annoyingly lightweight. Apparently, this is supposed to be a drama about compulsive gamblers—father L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall) and son Huck Cheever (Eric Bana)—and there’s every indication that both men are indeed compulsive gamblers at the start of the film. L.C. abandoned his wife (who had the good sense to die before the movie starts), stole her wedding ring for a stake, and lost the respect and love of his son. Huck is first seen pawning a camera he stole from a friend and this same ring (don’t ask) to get money to gamble with. This garners him an easy $10,000, which he promptly loses. Failing to get funding from any of his friends or associates, he cons a girl he just met, Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), into staking him. He makes a tidy profit, gives her a share, and proceeds to lose the rest. Ah, but he knows she has money, so he tracks her down to the sleazy night spot where she’s singing, sweet talks her, seduces her, steals her money while she’s sleeping, and loses it all. And so it goes from there.

By any normal definition, both these boys have pretty serious addictions, but you’d never guess it from the way the story progresses. Oh, no. This isn’t like Karel Reisz’s The Gambler (1974), even if it shares a lead female character named Billie. This is the rom-com family drama dumbed-down version. Anything relating to the sociopathic behavior of the male leads is forgotten by the film’s two-thirds mark, and no one seems to realize—or even hint—that it’s only a matter of time before Billie finds everything but her gold inlay pawned for another poker game after the final fade-out.

Even without this frankly disturbing Hollywoodization of a serious topic, Lucky You is no great shakes. The actors do what they can with the characters, but the characters don’t allow them to do much (and Ms. Barrymore should stick to duetting with Hugh Grant; singing solo is not her gig). Everyone speaks in Trite Cliché 101. You get lines like: “You play poker like you should live your life, and you live your life like you should play poker”; “We have a chance for something really special here”; “I think everybody’s just tryin’ not to be alone”; and “Your eyes went all quiet” (I still don’t know what that even means—and I suspect the writers don’t either).

The situations are unconvincing and transparent (will L.C. and Huck come to terms with their father-son relationship?), and the Billie Offer character is frankly too dumb to live. The film, however, is slickly made. Hanson brings undeniable style to the proceedings—even if it’s not really possible to make a poker game visually interesting after you’ve sat through a dozen or more. It might be tempting to blame it all on the screenplay, but the problem is that Hanson cowrote the damned thing with Eric Roth (The Good Shepherd), so he has to shoulder the blame on that count too. It’s not unwatchable, but it’s bad enough. Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual humor.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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