Poker, it would appear, is the new rock ‘n’ roll. A staple of online gaming and US sports channels for a while now, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood caught up and staked a serious interest. Enter director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, 8 Mile) and scripter Eric Roth (The Good Shepherd, Munich). Add to their credentials the acting cachet of Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore and Robert Duvall and cinematic riches are surely an edit away.
Alas, that’s not the case. In the same way that depictions of computer hacking usually fail to quicken the pulse, nailing the coiled tensions of card-playing has often proved elusive on screen. Revitalised Bond flick Casino Royale managed it. Lucky You doesn’t – getting dealt awful hole cards and missing the flop, turn and river.
Which wouldn’t matter so much if the movie offered more verve beyond the game table. It centres on impulsive Vegas hustler Huck Cheever (Bana), who needs 10 grand to enter the Poker World Series (purse: $2.5 million), a tournament his gambling-legend dad (Duvall) has already won twice. Huck duly raises, loses, raises again and loses again the necessary funds, causing backer Roy (Charles Martin Smith) to veer between encouragement and wrath. Meanwhile, our caddish hero also sets out to woo new-to-town lounge singer Billie (Barrymore).
It sounds like an involved tale, but it’s much ado about nothing. The Bana/Duvall rivalry is rooted in pops abandoning wife and child for Lady Luck, leaving junior to follow his imprint and repeat the sins of the father. But the sparseness of backstory detail hobbles any emotional interest the audience might have. Factor in an acting style that in the script notes probably read “understated” but on celluloid screams “wooden” (excepting Duvall, making the best of a bad hand), and you’ll be praying for an early fold.
Sadly, the filmmakers don’t oblige. An inordinate amount of Lucky You is spent watching Huck and his Vegas chums trying to out-poker-face each other. By the time the inevitable Bana/ Duvall big-bucks showdown crawls into view, even the Texas Hold ’Em hardcore will be longing for Hanson to go all-in and call it a night.