Lucky You (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Like most movies concerned to one degree or another with the subject of gambling, Lucky You addresses the themes of obsession and redemption. The film loosely follows the trajectory of an "addiction movie," although it's less grim than pictures of this sort that deal with drug and alcohol dependency. The compelling and interesting aspect of Lucky You is not so much the compulsion that drives the main character but the way in which he interacts with those around him. The movie isn't a downer, but neither does it end with all loose ends nicely tied off. In this case, redemption does not equate with salvation.

To me, poker has never seemed compelling as a spectator sport, although its TV popularity indicates that a sizable portion of the viewing population disagrees with me. Like chess, it involves strategy but it's tough for the subtleties of this to interest a casual viewer, especially when the twists and turns come from the pen of a writer rather than the luck of the draw. Director Curtis Hanson does his best to generate suspense as each new hand plays out, but this becomes a case of too much of the "sport" in a movie that is at heart a relationship drama. For those who find poker a little too static, there are 18 holes of golf to liven things up. There's no doubt that the movie needs to show some action at the poker tables - that's where some of the most intense character development takes place - but less would have been more effective. At over two hours, the running length is bloated and there are times when the film bogs down.

Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is a lifelong gambler. He learned at the kitchen table playing against his dad for pennies and nickels. It's his profession and his obsession. It fills his life, leaving little room for friends or lovers. He has pawned all of his furniture and most of his belongings to stay in the game. He wins more often than he loses and he doesn't know when to quit. There's one person Huck can't beat when the game means something: his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall). These two have a contentious relationship. L.C. is the kind of walled-off man who has difficulty expressing affection, and Huck blames him for wrongs - imagined or real - from his childhood.

Huck is trying to raise the $10,000 buy-in fee for the World Series of Professional Poker, an event L.C. has won twice. On more than one occasion, Huck has the money in hand, but he loses it when he goes too far or bets too much. He denies the existence of luck, and there are times when he has little of it. When he meets and falls for a pretty lounge singer, Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), he endangers the fledgling relationship by stealing money from her to stake him at a game. He ends up losing the money and Billie's trust.

The interaction between Huck and L.C. is worth the price of admission, in large part because both Eric Bana and Robert Duvall understand their characters and portray the emotional tension between them flawlessly. When these two oppose each other across the poker table, the cards fade into the background; this is a test of wills between father and son, mentor and student, and ego-driven opponents. The only time the poker scenes generate suspense is when these two are involved. The stakes are much higher than the chips on the table.

The film elects to keep the love affair between Huck and Billie low-key. She's a sweet, somewhat naïve girl who finds something more in him than the hustler that others, including her sister (Debra Messing), see. He betrays her but doesn't necessarily prove her wrong. This relationship is secondary to that between Huck and L.C. At times, Billie functions as Huck's conscience but she's a bystander during the film's emotional climax.

It's something of a mystery why this movie has languished in-house so long at Warner Brothers (it completed filming more than 18 months ago). Director Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, L.A. Confidential) is well-respected. The cast includes three A-list stars and a number of prominent secondary players (including Robert Downey Jr. and Jean Smart in small roles). The production, despite uneven pacing, is dramatically solid as it tills the fertile ground of fractured father/son relationships. There's no obvious reason for the movie to be dumped unceremoniously into theaters opposite Spider-Man 3 even in the interest of "counter-programming." Lucky You isn't Hanson's best movie but it's a respectable effort and deserves more of a chance to be seen than the one it's getting.

Lucky You (United States, 2007)

Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Charles Martin Smith
Screenplay: Eric Roth & Curtis Hanson
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Music: Christopher Young
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:04
U.S. Release Date: 2007-05-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1