Judge Daniel MacDonald thinks this is an optimistic title for any movie.
Change your game. Change your life.
Lucky You was originally scheduled for a September 2006 theatrical release, but was then held back until May 2007, where it died a quick theatrical death against Spider-Man 3. This can be done for any number of reasons, but it often doesn't bode well for the final product. Was the picture in trouble or just a tough little gem to market?
Facts of the Case
Professional poker player Huck (Eric Bana, Munich) is a smooth operator, able to grind $150 into more than $10,000 in a few hours at the tables, which is a valuable skill for him to have since he's equally good at throwing his money away. He's trying to come up with the buy-in for the World Series of Poker, where he would complete against both his hardnosed father (Robert Duvall, Open Range) and his own self-destructive tendencies, when he falls for Billie (Drew Barrymore, Charlie's Angels), an aspiring lounge singer who might teach him how to live his life more like the way he plays poker.
Lucky You is the big stack with the nuts in first position! If you know what that means, you'll probably enjoy this movie; even if you don't, there's a lot to like in this low-key character study.
Lucky You is all about texture, its purposefully paced plot allowing us to soak up the rich, manufactured atmosphere of Las Vegas. Set in 2003, Lucky You captures professional poker right on the cusp of exploding into the entertainment machine it is now, players having become celebrities with cameras showing us how they play. By setting such a specific time and place, co-writers Eric Roth (The Insider) and Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), who also directs, add a dimension of reality to what is otherwise a straightforward tale. Lucky You is all story over plot, and we're to just sit back and watch it unfold.
Doing so is a real pleasure. With Lucky You, Hanson uses a similar strategy to 2000's Wonder Boys in that he presents us with clearly defined characters and allows us to get to know them for a couple of hours, with what actually happens to them being secondary to who they are. Throw in an excellent soundtrack featuring a little Bob Dylan, a little Springsteen, and you've got a movie where we're just happy to marinate in its world for a while.
Huck is a charismatic, magnetic character, and kudos to Bana for maintaining his sympathetic qualities even when he alternates between despicable and dumb-ass. One transgression of Huck's against Barrymore, quite early in the movie, could have easily taken the shine off of him, which would have absolutely killed the picture. Instead, we're jolted by his boldness and want to find out even more what makes him tick. On the flipside, Huck's character flaws are so strongly established that it's not long before many scenes' outcomes are telegraphed from the moment they begin; we can predict his sabotaging of his own success long before he can. Lucky You has shades of another sports film featuring an appealing yet tragically flawed main character, Tin Cup, with less humor; we know Huck will make a mess, and are more interested in how he'll clean it up.
The film is not without its flaws, of course. Dialogue is often injected with poker metaphors, regardless of what's being discussed, and the role of Suzanne (Debra Messing, The Wedding Date), Billie's big sister—and, we presume, her protector—is so enigmatic that we're left to guess at what she thinks of Huck and his treatment of her sister (the inclusion of one deleted scene included on the DVD would have gone a long way with the latter problem). But it avoids what would have been the biggest pitfall in making a poker movie these days: getting the poker wrong. Obviously a great deal of research went into keeping things authentic, including peppering the tables with real-life poker "superstars," so the play feels real, the betting patterns true, the winning hands realistic.
I'm not usually a fan of Drew Barrymore—she often seems to be coasting on a combination of cute and coy—but she seriously underplays it here, and as a result turns in what may be one of her career-best performances. She shows a depth and a patience that I didn't know she had in her. Duvall is perfectly cast as Huck's dad, turning in a predictably appealing performance; even when he's being a jerk to his son, we never stop wanting to like him, making the film's denouement both satisfying and believable. And Horatio Sanz (Road Trip), believe it or not, comes off as both funny and credible as Ready Eddie, Huck's friend who will place a bet on nearly any activity.
The warm hues of poker rooms and glitzy neon of the Vegas Strip are well represented in this excellent video transfer, with virtually no shimmering, edge enhancement, or compression artifacts. Black levels are rich and the colors pop in this film-like presentation. There's no bombast to the sound, but ambient noise in the casino and on the streets, and especially the well-chosen music, come across with impressive transparency.
While there isn't a huge offering of special features, what's here is pretty good, and adds to the enjoyment of the picture on a whole. "The Players at the Table" gets into the development of the picture from the time Hanson decided to make Eric Roth's original script, and includes plenty of discussion with the real-life poker players from the movie discussing the lengths to which the producers went to ensure Lucky You is as authentic as possible (including having poker legend Doyle Brunson review and approve every hand played in the film). "The Reel Deal" covers the rationale behind setting Lucky You specifically in 2003, and the ten minutes or so of deleted scenes mostly elaborate on character development that was already established in the final cut (with the exception of the aforementioned Debra Messing scene).
Lucky You is a charming little picture that deserves to find an audience. With unobtrusive direction, appealing performances, and some of the best poker scenes since Rounders, it's a pretty safe bet for most viewers.
And pocket twos wins the pot! (Not guilty).
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Deleted Scenes
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