Lucky You

The Hollywood marketing machine is out of control. Let the ticket buyer beware! If you and your significant other are banking on a sweet romantic film as you enter the theater to see Lucky You, expect nothing less than pure disenchantment. The only love affair to be found in this dismal disappointment is between a man and his uncontrollable gambling obsession. However, if watching endless reruns of the World Championship of Poker is your idea of a hot weekend, there’s finally a movie for you and your sad life.

What was touted as the next love story from doe-eyed Drew Barrymore is really just round after round of Texas Hold’em in disguise. Huckleberry Cheever (Eric Bana), or Huck as he’s known to his friends, has had a cruel existence. As if actually being named Huckleberry weren’t bad enough, his slightly estranged father, L.C. (Robert Duvall) raised him on a hard diet of feverish poker playing only to turn around and abandon Huck and his mother. Ever since then Huck has drifted from one poker table to the next, sometimes winning but usually losing it right back. Other poker players are his family and freakish compulsive gamblers are his friends.

Enter Billie Offer (Barrymore), a young lounge singer hoping to make it big on the Las Vegas stage. Her uncontrollable urge (nearly everyone in this movie has one) is to fix broken people. Despite warnings from her wiser older sister (Debra Messing) who is all too aware from personal experience that Huck is an irreparable emotional black hole, Billie decides to give him a chance.

Their relationship is a fleeting one, full of really bad dialogue and absolutely zero chemistry. In fact, if you watch the trailer you get to see a little bit of pretty much every scene that has Barrymore in it. Huck and Billie (I still can’t say those names with a straight face) basically have an over-extended one night stand which dies a fitting death somewhere near the middle of the movie. The rest of the film is hand, after hand, after hand of mind-numbing poker.

Huck’s father is a two time winner of the World Poker Championship. Huck is a two-bit loser in the game of life. Their strained and awkward association as father and son, combined with Huck’s gambling problem, are what command most of the movie’s attention. Duvall and Bana go around and around in scene after scene of angst and confrontation. Even that might have made for a good movie if their relationship wasn’t always reduced to some metaphor from poker. L.C. might just as well have sat Huck down, sang him Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, and saved the audience two hours.

Desperate to get into the Championship and finally beat his father, Huck goes through all sorts of pains to get the $10,000 entry fee. The only problem is, every time he comes up with it he somehow manages to lose it, usually by gambling it away. It’s a plot line all too similar to that of Maverick, only without the humor, charm, class and pretty much anything else that might have made it worthwhile. Like Maverick, Lucky You ends up at the biggest poker tournament in the world and the tables are chock full of famous cameos. Only instead of country music stars this movie uses real-life poker celebrities, most of whom aren’t recognizable to non-fans except as that fat, bald guy with sunglasses from ESPN 2’s coverage of poker tournaments.

Screenwriter Eric Roth, who you might know as the writer behind movies like Forest Gump, Munich and The Good Shepherd, has taken a big step backwards with this sad attempt at making poker an analogy for life. I can only hope that’s what he was doing, otherwise there’s no excusing the stunted dialogue and schmaltzy plotline. In the end he finally ties up all the loose ends and even figures out a way to weave Billie back into Huck’s life. No doubt he hoped it would give the non-poker fans something to cheer about, but in the end the only ones with anything to celebrate are the movie’s marketers. It’s just enough to tout the film as a romance and sucker in unsuspecting movie-goers.

The only real spotlight here goes to the many colorful supporting cast members. They don’t have much to work with, but they do amazing things with their brief appearances. Jean Smart is disarmingly entrancing as the smooth, nonchalant, girl-in-the-all-boys-club championship player. Even though her dialogue is just as bland as everyone else's, she spins each word and expression into pure gold. Horatio Sanz, Robert Downey Jr. and Saverio Guerra are oddball pals who Huck hits up for cash. They each play their brief scenes to the fullest and lend the movie its few redeeming moments.

The movie’s release has been postponed for nearly a year and I imagine that if it weren’t for all the big names involved it would have gone straight to home video. It might have had a chance three years ago when Roth probably sat down to write the script and televised poker was at its peak. When you take out all the poker there’s not enough story left to fill half an hour. Lucky You? Only if you let this one pass you by.