The characters in Curtis Hanson
's Lucky You waste so much breath explaining their every move at the card table that the movie ultimately works better as a Texas Hold 'Em tutorial than a down-on-your-luck melodrama.
Completed in 2005, Lucky legendarily shuffled around Warner Bros.
' release schedule (bad sign) before the studio dropped it on the summer's first massive weekend (good sign) where it could compete with Sam Raimi
's Spider-Man 3
for an audience (suicidal sign). Watching it, you easily forget the picture's age and subsequent shelf life until Drew Barrymore
's character -- an aw shucks rube from Northern California trying to make it as a lounge singer in Las Vegas -- tosses off a Dr. Laura Schlesinger reference. Hanson even opens with Bruce Springsteen's "Lucky Town," an old-school track off The Boss' similarly titled album that brought me back a few years, but which actually fits the story well. Article continues below
As for the plot, Lucky follows leather-jacketed renegade Huck Cheever (Eric Bana
), a compulsive gambler blessed with a Mark Twain moniker and a bad-luck streak normally attributed to a Flannery O'Connor protagonist. Huck makes his living playing (and losing at) poker around Vegas' hotels and casinos. He has deep-seeded emotional issues with his father LC (Robert Duvall
), also a professional player, and an inability to hold down a steady relationship because he places more value on poker chips than on post-coital cuddling. Huck runs across Billie (Barrymore) as he fights to raise the entry fee for the World Series of Poker, and though both recognize the pairing is doomed, they begin an amiable after-hours relationship that's as stable as a house of cards.
Lucky is a decent movie with good performances and a hopelessly saccharine script. Hanson shares writing credits with Oscar winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), but the best they come up with are stale volleys of conversation that could pass as taglines on a movie's poster but have no business in a finished screenplay. "You raised me with nothing?" a puzzled poker player asks Bana after losing a hefty hand. "Sometimes nothing is enough," Bana replies, to a chorus of groans in our crowd.
That's the tip of the iceberg. Television star Debra Messing
later cautions Barrymore about entering a relationship with damaged goods like Huck. "Some people don't want to be fixed," she surmises. LC sends a stream of advice nuggets at Huck, most boasting obvious double meanings like, "Don't chase what you can't catch." Late in the game, when Billie must explain why she still chooses to stay with a loser like Huck, she whispers with a straight face, "Maybe everybody has a blind spot." Hanson and Roth love working poker terminology into their cornball dialogue.
But the movie's overriding theme of individual destruction makes the sum marginally better than its parts. Barrymore, now 32, is still perfectly comfortable personifying unblemished naivety -- the part of Billie would be grating in the hands of an actress unfamiliar with these terms. And Bana shows layers to his personality that keep one-note Huck surprising.
Hanson, who adequately maneuvers around Vegas' recognizable landmarks, also finds bit parts for supporting players who should work more. Not Robert Downey Jr.
, who does show face as a 1-900 operator who refuses to lend Huck money, but Phyllis Somerville (as a pawnbroker), Charles Martin Smith (as Huck's bankroller), and Jean Smart (as a pro player). If you've wondered where they've been all these years, the answer is the desert.