In many ways, Lucky You is an ode to those people who make their living playing poker. Given how the popularity of professional poker has exploded the last few years around the annual World Series of Poker, you probably expected more movies about the famous gambling game. Surprisingly there haven’t been that many.
And if you were going to make a mainstream Hollywood movie about poker, you’d center it around the 2003 World Series and make it as tension-filled as the televised version shown on ESPN. When you first heard Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile) would direct a movie about poker, that’s probably what you thought Lucky You was going to be.
But Hanson has a deeper affection for those week-in, week-out professionals, and his recent movie is a nod to them. Eric Bana (Troy, Munich) plays Huck Cheever, a professional poker player and son of legendary two-time World Series champion L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall). Huck has two styles of poker play: one where he plays the smart odds and wins, and the other where he plays the emotional odds and loses. The former gets him respect from the other players, while the latter loses him respect from his father.
A few days before the World Series, Huck still doesn’t have a seat at the main event and tries in vain to come up with the money. During his efforts, he meets Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore). On the outside, Billie just seems to be a random girl — eventually she is found to be the little sister of a former girlfriend (Debra Messing) — that Huck is interested in. But Billie is much more to Huck than that. She’s different than the other women in Las Vegas, and doesn’t immediately fall for Huck’s smoothness. And in Sin City, Billie has no sin.
Huck’s father says it best about him: “You play cards the way you should lead your life. And you lead your life the way you should play cards.” Huck lives his life in a series of highs and lows, and more often than not Huck is at a low, barely scraping by and pawning his possessions to keep going. He doesn’t realize that life and poker can be played the same way. He needs to finally understand when to walk away and what to hold on to.
Much of the movie is a who’s who of the poker world, featuring the game’s top stars like Johnny Chan, Jim Lester, and Doyle Brunson. The World Series takes a backseat in this movie, in favor of the common side bets between players and the less glamorous, more skillful cash game matches. There are numerous references to the lowly Internet players who win more often than not on luck rather than skill.
It’s interesting how much the “regulars” despise the computer players. Online play puts emphasis on knowing the odds, but table play takes more skill in the long run — having a good poker face, reading people, knowing when to go with your gut, etc.
Lucky You is entertaining, but the love story between Bana and Barrymore is underdeveloped while the father-son rivalry seems to drag on. I will say, however, that the movie does deviate from a very common cliché near the finale that helps the movie come full circle.
There are three sets of extras, two featurettes and one compilation of deleted scenes.
The first featurette is called “The Players at the Table,” which is about the level of involvement that those everyday poker players had in Lucky You‘s development. There are many interviews with Lester, Brunson (a consultant to Hanson), Jennifer Harman, and other players who guide you through playing professionally.
The other featurette is called “The Reel Deal” which details centering the movie around the specific 2003 World Series tournament. The poker hands are also emphasized, tailoring the cards to specific experienced hands during the 2003 event and to specific cards that emit certain emotions in various situations. The film’s poker authenticity was very important to Hanson and to those real players involved in shaping the movie.
The last extra is a series of deleted scenes that are unnecessary. There are a few more poker scenes that I think were excluded because they were too slow. Having too many poker scenes turns the movie into a poker movie instead of a movie about poker.