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Movie Review: Lucky You

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Lucky You is one of those colossal failures of film a lucky many have missed. Box Office Mojo records it as being the second lowest weekend opening of all time. It is hollow, forgettable, and worst of all, unnecessary.

Lucky You is about a poker hustler named Huck (Eric Bana), and his mission to win the World Series of Poker. He is the worst kind of gambler — gifted, and unscrupulous enough to perpetually re-ante, but too proud to ever profit. His estranged father L. C. Cheever (Robert Duval, in the film's only tolerable performance) is his antagonist. L. C. is also a skilled gambler who has already won the World Series twice. Huck despises him for his talent, and their mutual, amoral qualities.

L. C. tells Huck, "You play cards the way you should lead your life. And you lead your life the way you should play cards." The film has a similar problem — it's about playing poker when it should be about telling a story, and it tells a story when it should be about playing poker. There is a delightful motif in the way Huck and his Father continually win and lose to each other, but it gets muddled by Huck's unremarkable love interest with Billie (Drew Barrymore). Lucky You's soundtrack is similarly disjointed, by having soulful bookend songs by Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, but being eerily silent throughout. Lucky You is so focused on explaining poker it conveys "bad commercial" rather than the swings of winning and losing.

Curtis Hanson (director of L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and 8 Mile) directed and co-wrote the film alongside Eric Roth (The Good Shepherd and Munich). The script's porn-caliber flaws cannot be Roth's doing — The Good Shepherd is a veritable textbook on dialogue. The problem must be Hanson. Lisa Schwarzbaum calls Hanson "an obsessive filmmaker who loves to immerse himself in exotic subcultures." The urban streets of Detroit in 8 Mile are simply richer than the factory-like casinos of Las Vegas. Hanson is too focused on the strategies of the game and is unwilling or unable to fix the flat acting and uncharismatic characters.

Lucky You is deliberately set in 2003 "before poker got big." It features a plethora of cameos from professional poker players: Barry Greenstein, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson, and Johnny Chan. Poker aficionados cheer when they see Chan, because of his prominence in the superior poker film Rounders. Rounders showcased the joy of poker so well that many pros say it inspired their interest in the game. Lucky You isn't even a shadow of Rounders; its mark on film and the game of poker is completely transparent.

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