If you told me about a film by the screenwriter of Forrest Gump, The Insider and Munich, and the director who brought us L.A. Confidential, I’d say bring it on. If you went on that it was set in the high stakes world of professional poker, I’d be excited. But then you’d say it’s a romance starring Eric Bana (Troy) and Drew Barrymore (Never Been Kissed). I’d begin to doubt. Then I’d think back to The Insider, and tell myself a great script is the only way to make a great film.
Then I’d watch Lucky You and realize even a great screenwriter can turn out a clunker. But maybe there’d be hope for the DVD?
Lucky You is no hypothetical. Writer Eric Roth and co-writer/director Curtis Hanson really did team up to make a poker romance, and it really is a shoddy film. It stars Bana as Huck Cheever, a professional poker player in Vegas trying to bank 10 large for a seat at the World Championship of Poker. He’s skilled, but his reckless play keeps pushing him back to square one. It doesn’t help that he’s under the shadow of his estranged father (Robert Duvall, The Apostle), two-time world poker champ, who keeps popping up and making emotions cloud Huck’s game. And while Huck has talent at the poker table, his personal life is a whole different game. When he meets Billie Offer (Barrymore), he’s smitten and strikes up a relationship, but doesn’t know how to go all in. With nothing going as planned, Huck realizes he has to find a way to live life like he plays poker, or he’ll lose at both.
While the film is nominally a romance, it’s really more of a character study. We’re meant to develop an understanding of Huck as part of the poker world, and how his choice of profession impacts the rest of his life. The trouble is, we don’t have any reason to seek such an understanding because the film plods along in such a predictable manner. Every move is telegraphed, with obvious themes pushed down our throats by the clunky script. There’s also zero chemistry between the leads, a truly unfortunate situation given that the script is especially bad when it comes to the romance. Talk about bad luck.
The film does have a few shining moments, mostly when Duvall is on the screen. The man has great presence, lending weight to the interactions between his character and Huck. He belongs in the film Roth and Hanson should have made, not this flawed project. Along with Duvall’s performance, Lucky You also has the most realistic movie poker I’ve seen, no doubt thanks to the dozen-and-a-half pros associated with the picture, including a poker legend who consulted on every hand. The result is so far from the ridiculously over-the-top game in Casino Royale, it’s a real treat for the growing crowd of amateur poker aficionados.
That may be the problem with Lucky You. Roth, Hansen and company obviously went to a lot of trouble to create a realistic portrayal of the poker world, its characters and its setting — even going so far as to buy up all of the Bellaggio’s poker room stuff when the hotel underwent renovations. But all of that effort is for naught when your story is muddled and predictable. Relativity is a major factor here, as one of these things is most definitely not as good as the other.
So the film folds like a poker player who’s lost his nerve. How about the DVD?
Lucky You is presented on a single disc, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format. The transfer is better than average, but not perfect. There’s a bit of softness throughout, most notably present in the non-poker scenes (there are a few). Colours are nice and consistent, though. The only other issue is the layer-change, which seemed rougher than I’m used to. Maybe it was just poorly placed, but either way it’s a slight annoyance.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, in English, French or Spanish. It sounds ok, but there isn’t much going on. The film is heavy on dialogue and light on pretty much everything else. Oh, except country music, of all things. The soundtrack is way too heavy on the twang for my taste, especially for a poker film set in Vegas. In any case, we’re talking about limited use of the surrounds, with most of the sound coming from front and centre.
Subtitles are available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French and Spanish.
Lucky You doesn’t throw down a full house in the bonus material department. It’s more like a pair of kings and some miscellaneous junk. Here’s the full deal:
- The Players at the Table: at about 19 minutes, this featurette presents an interesting behind-the-scenes chat with the real-life poker players who appear in the film. Some of these are real celebrities in the poker world, and they tell us a lot about the game and the life of a pro poker player.
- The Reel Deal — The Time and Place of Lucky You: this one runs about 15 minutes, and includes interview clips from the director and others, who discuss how the film’s realistic poker and gaming environment was created. It’s not as good as the Players featurette, but it’s still good viewing.
- Deleted Scenes: wow. Just, wow. This has to be the worst collection of deleted material I’ve ever seen. It seems Lucky You could have been a lot worse.
Lucky You is what I’d say if you told me you’d never seen this movie. Keep it that way. For those who actually enjoyed the film (it’s possible, just ask Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz of The DVD Lounge), you’ll appreciate that the DVD is a little better than your average disc.