Had Lucky You reached theaters two years ago, Curtis Hanson would have been accused of shamelessly jumping on the celebrity-poker bandwagon. Now that this craze has subsided, the film comes to us feeling a little old and ragged, like some bum who tried to stow away on a cross-country cargo train but was kicked off in Topeka and only now has found his way to Vegas. Belated or not, this is a dully patronizing experience—a means for Hanson and his co-writer Eric Roth to show off their fondness for cards, shooting the story’s card games with the novice in mind and drawing the corniest of comparisons between poker and the game of life (editors of Urban Dictionary take note: Making a Good Fold = Walking Away From Your Man).
The film is over its head from the start, with Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) trying to use his poker skills to broker a higher sum for the digital camera he tries to hawk at a pawnshop. We’re told that he plays cards the way he should live his life and lives his life the way he plays cards, but this makes no sense given the tackiness with which he woos Drew Barrymore’s Billie Offer. The actors have no chemistry, though this is no fault of their own: Huck and Billie’s relationship is scantily dramatized, and just as there’s no insight into Huck’s life outside the casinos, we get no idea of Billie’s world before she came to Vegas to become a singer. This means it’s tempting to attribute Barrymore’s comatose performance to the shame of having to give expression to lines like, “I’m not a bank. You can’t make deposits and withdrawals whenever you want.”
Equally without gravitas is Huck’s relationship to his father, poker legend L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall), and the story’s view of gambling. Everyone is some kind of shark, trying to win bets by any means possible (the same jackass who gets breast implants to win a wager is later seen living inside a bathroom), but the film does not care to illuminate the nature of their desperation. At least none of it is played incessantly cute or insidiously sinister, though some kind of passion might have been preferable to the movie’s dispassionate tone.