September 25, 2007
Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Charles Martin Smith, Jean Smart, ,
Starring: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Charles Martin Smith, Jean Smart,
After the surprise critical and semi-commercial hit of L.A. Confidential (1997), director Curtis Hanson followed it up with the equally critically-lauded Wonder Boys (2000) that, despite two separate theatrical releases, failed to connect with a mainstream audience. Even with the presence of Cameron Diaz, Hanson’s In Her Shoes (2005) received a mixed critical reaction and lackluster box office. His latest film, Lucky You (2007), was supposed to be released a year ago and the studio sat on it while they figured out how to market the film. The release date was pushed back on numerous occasions before it was unceremoniously released on the same weekend as Spider-Man 3 (2007). This is usually the sign that said film is a mess.
Huck Cheever (Bana) is an ace card player with poker being his forte. He’s hustling to assemble the $10,000 entry fee for the World Series of Poker tournament. His biggest opponent will be his estranged father, L.C. (Duvall), who is an even better player. They have a visibly strained relationship that hints at a checkered past. Along the way, Huck meets new arrival to Las Vegas, Billie Offer (Barrymore), the younger sister of an old ex-girlfriend, Suzanne (Messing). Billie just got a job as a lounge singer and will she appeal to his heart where others have been unable to, or will the familiarity of poker continue to dominate his life?
They get to know each other over dinner and this scene is supposed to develop the chemistry between them. Sadly, there isn’t much at all. However, it is nice to see Drew Barrymore in a dramatic role with comedic flourishes again (a la Riding in Cars with Boys – still her best role to date) and she’s her usual charming self as her character acts as the audience surrogate for those unfamiliar with the world of poker.
Eric Bana is pretty good as a compulsive gambler but his character isn’t all that interesting nor is his dilemma all that compelling because we’ve seen it many times before and in better films. He has all the lingo and moves down cold but the way his character is presented feels a little too rehearsed, a little too Hollywood and not authentic enough. Robert Duvall gives another rock solid performance as a veteran poker player and ne’er-do-well parent.
Lucky You tries hard to immerse us in the world of poker by throwing around authentic lingo and populating the film with cameos from real-life poker champs but it often feels forced and too slick unlike Robert Altman’s California Split (1974) which is a much more successful, character-driven film with a less polished veneer. Ultimately, Hanson is a studio director who makes traditional genre films and Lucky You ends nice and neat with all of the conflicts cleanly resolved. This makes its lack of success even more baffling. Are audiences too jaded to accept this kind of movie or has the public’s fascination with poker past its prime?
“The Players at the Table.” According to Hanson, all of the poker players in the film are real, some famous and some not. For the director, it was important to do this in order to give the film an authenticity and to surround the actors with skilled players to make them look good. Hanson wanted to show the different kinds of poke than just the popular Texas Hold ‘Em. Many of the actual players talk about the game and share their philosophy of the game.
“The Reel Deal – The Time and Place of Lucky You.” Hanson did research in Vegas at the 2003 World Series of Poker and was inspired by the winner, a guy who was an Internet poker player. After that event, the game’s profile grew immensely in popularity.
Finally, there are nine minutes of deleted scenes that include more of Billie singing. We also get to see what Suzanne does for a living and more of her relationship with Billie.