Running time 124 minutes
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Written by Eric Roth
Starring Drew Barrymore, Eric Bana
Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, from a screenplay by Eric Roth and Mr. Hanson, based on a story by Mr. Roth, may have been intended to cash in on the ongoing multimedia poker-playing mania of which I am almost religiously not a part. For one thing, I realized at a very early stage of my card-playing depravity that I completely lacked a poker face. In fact, I was like the old joke about the man who claimed that he played poker with his dog, and then went on to complain that his dog was a lousy player because every time he got a good hand, he wagged his tail. I never had a tail to wag, but some perceptible glint in my eye or sudden intake of breath gave me away every time, and all the other players folded.
I bring up this shameful personal history only because so much of Lucky You deals with reading people’s facial expressions around a poker table. One would expect me to sympathize with the losers, but my only reaction to losers at poker on-screen or off is a shrug of mingled pity and contempt for these contributors to the mountainous personal debt that is threatening to bankrupt our society. I happened to have lived through the Great Depression, and when I hear that the stock market hasn’t soared this high since 1927, I begin cutting up my extra credit cards.
Having stated my irrational fears, I am still a little surprised by how universally Lucky You has been panned. I’ve been an admirer of the still-committed auteur Mr. Hanson since L.A. Confidential (1997), followed with only a slightly less excellence by Wonder Boys (2000) and In Her Shoes (2005). In this context, Lucky You is hardly Mr. Hanson’s strongest effort, but it does contain many of his saving graces: a warm regard for his characters, an unhurried pace for his narrative and a grown-up sense of morality. Indeed, the greatest failing of Lucky You with the critics may be the unexpected virtuousness in its fabulously sordid setting and its obsessively acquisitive genre.
Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is a Las Vegas gambler with an Oedipal monkey on his back. His father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), is a former English professor who has won the Vegas-based World Series of Poker two times, and yearns for a third win that will place him in the ranks of poker’s immortals. L.C. represents the old traditions of well-calculated risk-taking. By contrast, Huck is known in the trade as a “blaster,” a comparatively restless player who has on several occasions blown up himself and his raft on a wild-hunch bet. The strange thing is that Mr. Bana projects a charmingly understated poker-faced character, whereas Mr. Duvall has long been associated with “blaster” roles in other contexts.
Drew Barrymore plays lounge singer Billy Offer with her seemingly effortless likability expressed in her magical smile. And she needs all her acting resources to convince us of her character’s heroic capacity to forgive Huck after he has stolen money from her purse after they have made love together for the first time. Nonetheless, I like movies with the right kind of feel-good ending—especially in these dire times, when one form of doom or another is staring at us from every movie billboard. I can’t go into the details of the “virtuousness” in the film, because that would give away too much of what admittedly little there is to the plot.