Published at: May 4, 2007, 4:48 p.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with an alternate movie offering for those of you turned off (or turned away) by the lines inevitably waiting to great you at every Cineplex playing SPIDER-MAN 3.
The thinking behind the two-year release delay of LUCKY YOU was that competitive poker wasn't in style anymore with the public. So a 2-hour-plus drama about a professional poker player, in which at least one hour of the film is spent at the tables may not have audiences lining up around the block. LUCKY YOU was meant to mark Drew Barrymore's transition from cutesy romantic comedies (like the recent MUSIC & LYRICS) into more serious works of merit. And while the film is hardly on a dramatic par with something like LEAVING LAS VEGAS, it is a far better offering than its long-delayed opening would lead us to believe. In fact, it's a really great character study not only of poker players but also of people who find stability and financial security too much responsibility to handle.
Set in Las Vegas (naturally), the film stars MUNICH's Eric Bana as Huck Cheever, a player who is as smart as they come but frequently impatient and hotheaded at the tables whenever he feels someone is challenging him a little too aggressively. He likes to put people in their place, but often that leaves him on the losing end of a hand he should have played more intelligently. As a result, he is often pawning possessions and borrowing money so that he can buy into lower-stakes games to win enough cash to play with the big boys. LUCKY YOU is that rare film that actually makes a real effort not just to show you people playing cards, but also to explain the complicated and sometimes baffling strategy that goes into every hand. Funny, I used to think poker was about who had the better hand, and that's why I only play blackjack when I go to Vegas.
Bana's primary objective when we meet him is to win or borrow enough money for the entry fee to enter the World Series of Poker and win the massive grand prize. There's a stellar cameo by Robert Downey Jr. as one of Huck's friends that just makes you love Downey that much more, if that's possible. The guy can do more with five minutes of screen time than just about anybody. While searching Vegas for people he can borrow or win money from, he meets Billie (Barrymore), a singer just in from Bakersfield and the sister of Suzanne, a woman (Debra Messing) who knows Buck's game a little too well. Huck sees her as a temporary solution to his cash flow problem if he can charm her into loaning him some cash. She sees him as the smooth-talking charmer he is. And the two seem undeniably drawn to each other.
As one would expect, the analogies tying Huck's life to gambling and cards fly fast and furious in LUCKY YOU, but director Curtis Hanson (8 MILE; L.A. CONFIDENTIAL; WONDER BOYS) and his co-writer Eric Roth keep things from going down a truly cheesy path. In addition to Bana's absolutely flawless performance, the film generates even more fire thanks to Robert Duvall's razor sharp portrayal of Huck's father, a two-time poker champion and the one man Huck can't seem to beat. Dad left wife and son when Huck was young, and the animosity between them is fierce at times. It's also the reason Huck plays recklessly against him.
It's rare that I've ever found a hand of cards suspenseful. In fact, before the masterfully paced hands in CASINO ROYALE, I think the last round of poker I found thrilling was in THE STING, which made me all the more excited that the unprecedented amount of screen time devoted to cards in LUCKY YOU is all pretty exciting stuff. I know the games are rigged for the cameras, but by allowing the audience a little insight into the way the players think and how much they know about the other players' hands, it drew me in and kept me there. These scenes combined with a great deal of humor, an unusual but worthy love story, and a subtle tale of redemption (of more than one character), LUCKY YOU is solid drama that has been shamelessly pushed back and back in the release schedule for months on end, and has the sad distinction of being the only other major film to open up the same weekend as SPIDER-MAN 3. If you're someone who hates crowds and loves a good character study, this should satisfy you on all accounts.