by Dawn Taylor
Nobody’s perfect, and even the best directors make films that just don’t work. But when the director is somebody like Curtis Hanson, it’s especially disappointing. It may not be fair, but the man’s set a pretty high bar for himself with “L.A. Confidential,” “Wonder Boys,” “8 Mile” and “In Her Shoes," so a trite piece of fluff like “Lucky You” is a bitter meal indeed.In those previous films, Hanson gave us unlikable characters who did awful things, but the writing was so sharp and the casting so dead-on perfect that we were able to like them anyway, and we cared about their ultimate redemption. In Lucky You the writing’s flaccid and filled with platitudes like “You play cards the way you should lead your life and you lead your life the way you should play cards,” and two of three lead characters are so egregiously miscast that it’s impossible to give a damn what happens to them.
"Poker? I wouldn't even take her to see this crappy movie!"
The single biggest problem with the film, aside from the pedestrian script, is Eric Bana as professional gambler/compulsive bastard Huck Cheever (and yes, that's really the character's name). We’re introduced to him as he works his charm on a pawnbroker so she’ll give him the money he needs to stake himself at the poker table -- except that Bana doesn’t have much charm, and without that charm it’s impossible to be on his side because he’s a really unpleasant guy.
We later learn that the camera he was pawning belongs to his roommate, and then he steals from his date, Billie (Drew Barrymore) on their first night together so he can creep out while she’s sleeping and head back to the casino. Naturally, he loses every dime. He has no furniture because, we assume, he’s sold it all to cover his gambling debts and, when a high-rolling pal (Charles Martin Smith) hands him a $10,000 bankroll to stake him in the World Series of Poker, Huck blows it all in just a couple of minutes to his asshole gambler father, L.C. (Robert Duvall).
Huck's redemption ostensibly comes because of his relationship with Billie, who stays interested in Huck despite his giving her (and us) no motivation to like him. If, perhaps, Hanson gave us a reason -- any reason at all -- to believe that there's a good person lurking somewhere inside Huck, Billie's attraction might be plausible. Give the guy a scene where he's generous with a friend, for example. Or show him, I don't know, being nice to a retarded kid or a puppy. Anything to give us even the most slender understanding of why she keeps giving him a chance. Her brief moment with her sister (Debra Messing) which supposedly establishes that Billie likes to "save" troubled men just doesn't cut it -- Huck isn't troubled, he's a complete douchebag with nothing at all going for him, and her attraction to him never feels like anything more than the machinations of the script.
Yes, we’re supposed to be charmed when he rides his motorcycle from Las Vegas to her home in Bakersfield the day before the tournament to apologize to her – but really it just points out some huge scripting flaws. Like, why couldn’t he just call her on the phone, particularly since the conversation lasts all of 30 seconds? And how the hell far is it from Las Vegas to Bakersfield, anyway, that he can just hop on his motorcycle and tool over there in an evening? (Answer: 220 miles, so if he pushed it he could do it round-trip in about six hours.)
Barrymore’s an actress who's either so delightful that you can overlook her limited acting skills or impossibly irritating, depending on the role and the director. Here, she’s just walking through the part. When Billie gets a job as a singer in a motel lounge, she sings two songs – and honestly, I couldn’t tell if she’s supposed to be a lousy singer or not. She does a bizarre, slow cover of George Jones’ “The Cold Hard Truth” that's accompanied by tinkly piano and stand-up bass, and it’s awful. Her character’s also been given the quirk that she tends to get commonly used phrases wrong ("you're a sick pony," she says to Huck) which is
supposed to be adorable but, again, feels only like a script contrivance, and Barrymore's characteristically awkward speech patterns aren’t helped any by the dumb dialog she’s forced to mouth.
At 124 minutes, Lucky You is too long by at least a half an hour – and that last 30 minutes is entirely devoted to the big poker tournament where, wouldn’t you know it, Huck ends up at the final table facing off with his dad. Hanson’s picture has been sitting on the shelf for two years, and it was all too obviously made to cash in on the then-hot poker craze that’s already run its course. The whole thing feels like it was made fast to get a poker movie into theaters while it was trendy … except that it wasn’t released, because it's not any good.Hanson’s an excellent director, and there are swaths of “Lucky You” that are admittedly very well executed. But without a main character to root for, a believable romance or any reason to give a crap about the story, the whole thing just rolls over on its back and dies like a big, bloated, poker-flavored dead fish. Hopefully his next picture will be a return to form.
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originally posted: 05/04/07 13:13:19