Lucky You

| May 5, 2007

Let’s just say it now, right here at the top–poor Lucky You. It will forever be remembered as the picture that opened against Spider-Man 3. Man, what a distribution assignment. If I were director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, In Her Shoes), I’d want some elaborate means of compensation for taking one for the team in such grand fashion. Of course, this kind of release against a known juggernaut like Spidey, usually means only one thing–that Lucky You got dumped by the studio to get it off the books.
I’m sure you’ve already heard that about this film. It was made two years ago and sat on the shelf, waiting for a release date. Of course the reason why movies like this get released, despite the studio’s cold feet, is that there are some major players involved. As mentioned above, Curtis Hanson directed the film from a screenplay he wrote with Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider). The film stars Eric Bana as card shark Huck Cheever. Robert Duvall plays his father and nemesis, fellow card shark, L.C. Cheever. Drew Barrymore plays the love interest, Billie Offer. A host of other recognizable stars, like Robert Downey, Jr. and Debra Messing, appear in more minor roles.
But the real question at play here is–despite the cold feet and checkered past of Lucky You, is it a bad film or not? My response to that, and to you, is no. It isn’t. It’s not brilliant by any means. It’s not even really good. It’s pretty average, but it’s a well done, if overly long, average. And in this day and age of mainstream movies and focus group testing, I think that’s saying something. It’s got some heart and a sweet little love story going on–the problem being that its not the love story you’d expect at first blush.
Herein lies the dig, for Lucky You, its director, and its highly capable players. Lucky You is billed as an intelligent romantic comedy set against the high-stakes poker tables and all-night Strip of Las Vegas. Unfortunately, it’s really not a romantic comedy. Or, rather, it uses the conventions that we all know from romantic comedies–boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end–to delve into another type of love. That love is the love of the game (think boy has game, boy loses game, boy comes to understand game and himself).
Huck Cheever is a born player. His father, L.C., is a two-time world champion poker player. Huck’s spent his entire life hustling the tables of casinos to make his way in the world. He’s gifted, but his past – and the specter of his father – nips at his heels every hand he plays. He’s got unresolved issues with his father, a player who’s always had his number at the table and in life. When his father arrives on the scene in Vegas days before the big tournament, it sends Huck spiraling out of control, giving into his emotions and anger at the poker table, and getting beat badly in the process. Through the love of a good woman, Drew Barrymore’s Billie, he finds his inner card shark again, gets the money together to enter the tournament and reaches a moment of truth with his father at the table in the final game that reaches a slightly unexpected, but sweet turn at the end.
Lucky You stumbles most as a movie when it veers from the cards into sappy romantic comedy land. It’s false notes as a film occur between Bana and Barrymore during their courtship scenes. It’s not that these moments in the film are horrible; it’s just that they seem so unnecessary. We’ve seen them before. They feel rushed and underdeveloped. And worst of all, they just tend to get in the way of the real story–Huck Cheever’s redemption as a poker player and a son.
All in all, Lucky You is a competent film. Curtis Hanson’s skill as a director, and obvious love of poker, is evident when it counts most–in the scenes between Duvall and Bana. The acting is strong, though none of the players really stretch out and work against expectations. Lucky You just suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. Underneath the obvious romantic comedy leanings, lies the heart of a lighthearted character drama. Something Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood or Hal Ashby might’ve directed back in the ’70s. Something about high-stakes poker, fathers and sons, and the eternal neon glow of Las Vegas. If Lucky You was that kind of film, I don’t think it’d be remembered as the unfortunate film that opened against Spider-Man 3.

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