Five Card Drew, Working From a Cold Deck

rex lucky3h Five Card Drew, Working From a Cold DeckLucky You
Running Time 124 minutes
Written by Eric Roth
Directed by
Curtis Hanson
Starring Drew Barrymore, Eric Bana

Lucky You has been gathering dust on the “whatever were they thinking of?” shelf for two years. One look and you know why. It’s a ponderous, anemic bore about how to play poker that exploits the trendy gambling fever that is all the rage on the Internet and cable TV, but doesn’t have enough energy to keep the most catatonic tournament-poker addict awake. To keep your eyes open for even a fraction of its 124-minute running time, you better know how to play the game. I don’t know a grand slam from a royal flush and couldn’t care less, so I might just as well have been watching a two-hour translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Rarely have I seen a movie that interested me less.

This is surprising, because the director is Curtis Hanson, whose good movies (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) are as good as it gets, and whose bad movies (8 Mile, which failed to make a movie star out of Eminem) are better than they deserve to be. Even the doomed In Her Shoes, a girlie flick that landed him belly up on dry sand, was slick and enjoyable. Lucky You is his first unredeemable flop—a snooze on all levels. Since there is only the barest thread of a plot, one can reduce it to a brief synopsis. Eric Bana, the Australian actor who played the chief Israeli terrorist-tracker in Spielberg’s Munich, now appears as a poker nut named Huckleberry Cheever, whose life centers on landing a chair in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Drew Barrymore plays a trusting, sweet-natured singer from Bakersfield, Calif., with more heart than talent named Billie Offer. (Where do they get these names?) They sort of team up, even after he steals her money to add to his entrance fee. While Huck and Billie seesaw their way to bed and an eventual resolution that is ludicrous, Huck fights another kind of emotional tug of war with his estranged father L.C. (Robert Duvall, obviously slumming), a former champ who lands in the World Series competing against his own son. The father-son rivalry is played out at gaming tables and in coffee shops, while the film shows off a variety of Vegas casualties who gamble jewelry, real estate, pawn tickets, even their relationships. There’s one freak with silicone knockers under his cowboy shirt who was bet $50,000 that he couldn’t have breast implants and keep them for six months. He took the wager. Now he needs mascara to go with them. The movie follows Huck from one crisis to the next as he tries to raise the entry fee. It takes one and a half hours to get to the big game, and the five-day event itself takes up only 35 minutes. Time passes with self-consciously meaningless dialogue like “You want sympathy? You’ll find it somewhere between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary.” And: “You play cards the way you should run your life, and you run your life the way you should play cards.” And: “Giving and receiving are more complicated than winning and losing.” Eric Roth’s script sounds smart, but it doesn’t really add up to anything, and the people spouting it are pure crepe paper.

The wanton and wasted supporting cast includes Robert Downey Jr. as a phone-in radio psychologist who dispenses advice to desperate victims of gambling sickness, Jean Smart as the first woman in 33 years to make it to the world-championship games, and Debra Messing, in the thankless role of Drew Barrymore’s sister, trying to prove there is life after Will and Grace. She looks awful. So does Ms. Barrymore, badly photographed in an ugly brown wig. Mr. Bana is a competent actor with hard eyes, a blunt jaw and an alarming lack of screen charisma. The chemistry between them is too taciturn to stir up much heat. I’ve seen warmer love scenes in the crocodile cage at the Sydney Zoo.

You won’t learn anything about real people here, but what Lucky You does do is splatter you with a deluge of poker terms. Instead of metaphors for human interaction, the gamblers are deceitful users and con artists who spout high-stakes terminology about club flushes, open-ended straight draws, burn cards, tall hands, pocket aces, good folds and “on the river.” To no avail. I heard a lot about “pocket knives” and “rainbows” and I still don’t know what they mean. Best line in the film: “You might as well play online.” Makes sense to me.