Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) isn’t a gambler. He’s a poker player. While a gambler plays against the odds, a poker player uses his or her knowledge of mathematics and the ability to read an opponent’s behavior to win more often than they lose. Chance plays a role as in all things, but poker is largely a game of skill. Huck has no shortage of poker skills, but these skills don’t translate very well into how he deals with people away from the poker table. In both areas, his biggest failing is that his ego always seems to get in the way. At one point in the story, an ex-girlfriend (Debra Messing) says to him “If anyone can turn nothing into something, it’s you Huck. Problem is you always give it all away.” She’s referring to poker, but naturally she’s also alluding to his personal life.
Huck’s immediate problem as the story begins is coming up with the $10,000 necessary to buy himself a spot in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. His life is complicated by the fact that his estranged father T.C. (Robert Duvall), a two-time World Series champion, is also in town for the tournament. Huck has never been able to beat his father at poker and still resents him for choosing poker over his family. Into this already volatile situation walks Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) with dreams of a singing career. Huck takes an immediate liking to this girl, but juggling his game, his father and his love life proves to be more than he can handle.
Much of the first hour of the film is devoted to Huck’s attempts to win the $10,000. I lost track of how many times he won the money and then lost it again. Throughout this portion of the film, it feels like the love story between Huck and Billie is slighted and it never fully develops. At times it seems like Billie comes and goes as the script requires it. At one point she’s even sharing a scene with Huck but when it’s time for him to interact with T.C. instead, her cell phone rings and she wanders off to take the call only to return as Huck wraps things up with his father. The trailers for the film seemed to be selling more of a romantic drama, but the focus was more on poker and on Huck’s relationship with his father. Billie felt like little more than a plot complication.
In fact, in many ways this felt like a much longer movie that had been inexpertly trimmed down. Some of the supporting cast, especially Debra Messing and Robert Downey, Jr., seemed to be only half formed and tacked on to the story. I wonder if more of them had been left on the cutting room floor as the editors ultimately decided what shape the movie should take.
A special note should be made of the names in the film. They’re annoying. Huck Cheever and Billie Offer are only names that would work in a novel. In a movie they seem contrived. A small point and a personal one, but it needed saying.
It’s not a bad movie and there is plenty to like about it. Watching Huck and T.C. play poker with a lengthy cast of real professional players was surprisingly entertaining most of the time. A movie with so much poker could easily have been extremely dull. Real players fold a lot. Here, the poker scenes managed to be fairly realistic without being boring, as opposed to those in the recent Casino Royale which were neither. Poker legend Doyle Brunson provided technical advice for the film and the games felt credible yet still had plenty of drama.
As for the acting, Eric Bana was good as Huck, a flawed character who in less charming hands could easily have been thoroughly unlikable. Robert Duvall is fun to watch even though he seems to be acting in familiar territory here. Drew Barrymore is less successful, but she’s given less to work with. Whether or not you like her will depend probably on how you feel going in.
A likable and still-entertaining misfire, Lucky You frustrates by its lack of focus and by tantalizing with a potential that is never quite lived up to.
Lucky You: USA 2007. Directed by Curtis Hanson. Written by Curtis Hanson and Eric Roth. Starring Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Jean Smart, Charles Martin Smith and Robert Downy, Jr. with cameos by many poker professionals. 2 hours 3 minutes. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and sexual humor. 2.5 stars (out of 5)