Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lucky You

LUCKY YOU (Curtis Hanson, 2007)

LUCKY YOU has a gem of an opening scene. Career poker player Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) enters a pawnshop to sell a digital camera. The pawnbroker (Phyllis Somerville) makes an unsatisfactory offer, in part because she already has three other cameras in stock. Not one to be easily deterred, Huck explains how purchasing his camera will increase the sale price of the others. The pawnbroker parries his arguments, but his entertaining persuasion eventually wears her down, even if he must concede more in the transaction than he desired. The scene wonderfully illustrates the calculated risks, observational skills, and sacrifices required of the professional gambler. Unfortunately, director Curtis Hanson plays all his cards in the introduction to LUCKY YOU.

Huck dwells in the shadow of his father L.C. (Robert Duvall), a two-time World Series of Poker champion he's still unable to forgive for cheating on his mother. Although he can't beat his dad, Huck's a pretty good player in his own right but one with a weakness for being impulsive when he should play it safe. He prowls the casinos each night trying to rustle up the $10,000 entry fee or win a seat in the famed tournament. When it appears he's turned a corner toward his goal, a bad decision or a bad break pulls him back. Huck trusts his own abilities and denies the existence of luck even if his propensity for self-sabotage and run-ins with misfortune ought to change his mind.

Along the way he hooks up with Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), a naïve singer new to Las Vegas. She possesses little comprehension of what drives professional card players like Huck, but it doesn't take long for her to get educated in the dangers of dating a compulsive gambler.

Like Huck, LUCKY YOU is sure of itself yet in need of direction. Hanson goes all in believing that the subject of high stakes poker is riveting, but with undue emphasis placed on the cards instead of the characters, LUCKY YOU is holding a losing hand by the time it reaches the river.

TV sports producers have decided that if they want to snag casual viewers, they need to stress storylines. Strangely, Hanson takes the opposite tactic. He sketches Huck in a few simple strokes and hopes the meager outline is sufficient for capturing our attention. Rather than dig into the complicated history between father and son, LUCKY YOU prefers to follow several more hands in which Huck holds suited connectors or big slick. It's a fatal mistake. Although televised poker lacks some surprises--the World Series of Poker airs on tape delay after the results are public knowledge--it holds the potential for shocking results that a fictional film can't pull off. Viewers know that nothing is at stake because of the predetermined way in which the story must unfold.

The romance is with Vegas and poker than with Billie, which may be just as well. Barrymore is out of her element in an underwritten part. She and Bana have a nice flirtatious meeting, but beyond that there isn't any reason to believe these two people are fascinated with one another. No, the romance is with gambling. While LUCKY YOU consistently demonstrates that this lifestyle leads to a sad and lonely existence, it's enthralled with it all the same. Huck occupies a barren home and owes money all over town, but nonetheless, the movie gets caught up with the glamour. Perhaps unwittingly LUCKY YOU has more to say about addiction than was intended.

Grade: C

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