Lucky You! / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 4, 2007 | Comments ()
What the hell happened to Curtis Hanson? After delivering two amazing films (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys), and the daring if, a little underwhelming, 8 Mile, he then goes on to direct a big-screen adaptation of a chick-lit novel, In Her Shoes, a fair-to-middling effort that I willed myself to like out of sheer respect for Hanson’s work (see also Elizabethtown, Crowe, Cameron ). And now this — Lucky You, a title that should come appended with a sarcastic exclamation point aimed at anyone duped by Hanson’s résumé into seeing this pathetic excuse for entertainment. Pa-fucking-thetic.
I actually assumed at first that — after making a bold but moronically misguided attempt to turn Cameron Diaz into a dramatic actress with her role in In Her Shoes — Hanson was so disheartened by the box-office failure of that film that he’d decided to say fuck it and cash in on a vapid Drew Barrymore rom-com. If only we had been so lucky. Instead, Lucky You! is a poker drama, and Hanson — ignoring the scads of 30-something actresses with actual dramatic talent — chose to cast Drew Barrymore for her acting chops, which is a bit like hiring a bus driver to fly a jet airplane. The results, in either respect, are about the same: Crash and burn, bitches.
Besides, poker “drama” is a misleading label here, because in Lucky You!, Hanson forsakes the drama for lots and lots and lots of poker — it’s two of the longest hours you will ever spend in a theater, 80 percent of which is spent watching unattractive men and women sit around a table and play cards. If I’d wanted to see this much poker, I’d have stayed at home and tuned in a rerun of Celebrity Poker Showdown, an infinitely more entertaining show if only because it provides the prospect of a B-level celebrity drinking too much and wagering her blouse for a martini olive while giving Danny Masterson a handjob under the table.
Of course, the 120 minutes of poker scenes are punctuated with short bursts of “drama,” by which I mean the principals carry on empty conversations rife with lame poker clichés. Every goddamn character speaks in poker terminology, as if the entire meaning of life can be distilled and explained through a simple game of hold ‘em or through nuggets of wisdom like these: “Poker is the purest sense of competition,” or “I could’ve played it safe, but that’s not who I am,” or “everyone over 21 deserves what they get,” or my favorite: “Sometimes nothing is enough.” Clearly, that was Hanson’s belief when he put together Lucky You!
Indeed, there is so much poker and so little plot that the storyline, such as it is, hardly warrants mention, but here it is anyway: Huckleberry Cheever (Eric Bana, with a horrible excuse for a literary name) is a professional poker player who spends most of the movie playing cards, winning and then losing money, in an effort to accumulate $10,000, the entry fee it takes to get into the 2003 World Series of Poker (why 2003? No clue — maybe Hanson intended Lucky You! as a period piece, and if so, he certainly nailed the authenticity of a Vegas casino circa 2003). Huck’s poker kryptonite is his father, L.C. (Robert Duvall), a two-time World Series of Poker champion and expert deadbeat dad. Huck and L.C. aren’t on particularly good terms, which seems to have a lot to do with the fact that L.C. keeps cleaning his son out and rubbing it in his face (it’s called parenting). In fact, Huck has never beaten his father at cards, which naturally portends a final table showdown at the World Series of Poker pitting the two against each other, a single game that takes up over half an hour of screen time but felt more like four days of my life.
Anyway, during the infrequent lulls between card games, Huck manages to pick up Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore, with an even worse character name) in a bar, only to learn that she’s the younger sister of an old girlfriend, played by Debra Messing (cast to confuse you into believing you’re watching a romantic comedy). Huck hustles Billie, takes her home, beds her, swipes $1,000 while she’s asleep, loses it all, and the two fall madly in love. Seriously — that’s pretty much the sequence of events, though it’s hard to get a feel for the apparent affection they have for each other. In all honesty, I don’t have a clue what Hanson was thinking casting these two together — there is an obscene lack of chemistry; the onscreen coupling is about as successful as the marriage of ice cream and gravy — a hot and cold concoction that’s just as distasteful going down as it is coming back up a few minutes later.
I don’t know, either, what the hell is going on with Hanson’s lighting technique. In In Her Shoes, as I recall, he managed to isolate Cameron Diaz’s every flaw and blemish and highlight them, apparently in an effort to scare the small children in attendance. Here, he does the same for Drew Barrymore — she looks homely, a little doughy, and I think I even saw a trace of a moustache. Maybe Hanson is going for some sort of naturalism, and if so, I wish he’d cut it out, or at least find actors and actresses who look better under his lighting. Bana, who I love as a dramatic actor (see Munich) is horribly miscast here, too. A hustling poker player who spends most of his time staring into the camera needs some Rockwellian panache — a little flair to liven things up a bit. Though Bana does have a great poker face — unexpressive, slightly smoldering, dead-eye listlessness that he wears for three quarters of the film, as if to remind us of how monotonous the experience of watching it is. But I will grant that Duvall steals every scene he’s in, even if the hairpiece he’s wearing looks like swimming-pool sludge and Grecian formula.
I’m sure there are a few hardcore poker fans — the kind who discuss their worst beats as though they are stories worth actually telling in public — who might find some entertainment value in Lucky You!, though there is nothing particularly dramatic about the poker games, either — there is little tension and no particularly memorable villains to raise the stakes, so to speak. I understand also that the final table includes several cameos of real. life. poker. players though I wouldn’t recognize one seriously no-life guy from another (next to poker players, comic-book geeks are like freakin’ Chippendales dancers). If you got bored during the extended poker sequences in Casino Royale, imagine what an entire movie of that would be like. In fact — and I’m not even kidding here — the most amusing moments in the film involved Horatio Sanz as an obsessive gambler who bet a guy that he wouldn’t get a boob job and keep it for six months and, at another point, that he wouldn’t live in a hotel bathroom for 10 days. That may not sound particularly fascinating to you, but when stacked up against the alternative — eying cards, staring at opponents, folding, fumbling with chips, checking, and raising — it’s sweet, sweet relief.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.