Lucky You deals a weak and predictable hand


If the trailer is to be believed, Lucky You is a poker-infused chick flick carefully crafted to get boyfriends interested in taking their girlfriends to the latest light-hearted romance. But, as with all things in the world of poker, nothing is ever as it seems.

Directed by Curtis Hansen, whose previous work includes both L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, Lucky takes place in Las Vegas and centers on an all out, blaster-style poker player named Huck Cheever (Eric Bana.) Huck is hawking everything he can in order to raise $10,000 in stake money for the upcoming 2003 World Poker Championship. But every time he edges ahead, Huck quickly loses and falls behind, especially when his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), arrives to play in the championship, which he has won twice before.

In the course of Hucks hustling, bluffing and gambling for the entry fee, he meets Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), a young singer from out of town who is looking to start over. Huck and Billie really hit it off, but Hucks compulsion momentarily overrides their budding love, and he ends up burning Billie for a quick buck. Guilt ridden, he tries to put things right, but with the Championship approaching and his father circling, Hucks demons make it difficult for him to figure out when to hold em, when to fold em, and when to walk away.

Contrary to Warner Bros. marketing, the real story in Lucky is not one of romance but of compulsion. Hansen reveals Huck to be a deeply flawed character whose potential relationship with Billie is but one of several areas in his life in need of fixing. To facilitate this character journey, Hansen tries to portray Huck as likable and sympathetic before slowly revealing to the audience his truer, darker nature. Billie and the promise of romance is just the audiences incentive to see Huck through this darkness to the films resolution an otherwise effective potboiler technique that fails in the execution.

Like a pair of loaded dice tumbling down the craps table, Lucky never once deviates from its formulaic roots. Consequently, the story telegraphs its intent every step of the way. The script is aptly written, but dry and therefore unable to inspire the cast. Barrymore is simply abysmal. She delivers her lines with all the acuity of bubble-headed sorority cheerleader. Bana, who has zero chemistry with Barrymore, coasts through much of the film with a fixed blank stare. While he notably perks up during a brief but entertaining cameo by Robert Downey, Jr., Banas best moments come late in the film when opposite Duvall, whose wayward father character delivers the only dramatic spike in the film.

Aside from Bana and Duvall, Luckys only other saving graces are found in the poker sequences, which is fortunate considering they comprise a good half of the movie. Infusing many of the card hands with real life scenarios, Hansen manages to film each game sequence with equal parts tension and understanding, so that even the most novice of poker players, like me, are able to follow along and enjoy.

But, these bits of good are not enough to carry the films hollow core. Whatever stake in Hucks character that you pick-up during the poker scenes dwindles fast when he is away from the table, and you quickly realize that the filmmakers are bluffing you on a busted hand.