Directed By: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Charles Martin Smith
Curtis Hanson's "Lucky You: tells the story of Huckleberry "Huck" Cheever (Bana), a professional poker player in Las Vegas circa 2003. Huck lives in the shadow of his father, L.C. Cheever (Duvall), a two time winner of the World Series of Poker and a regular at the "Big Game" table at the Bellagio. While Huck is normally a skilled and competent player, he tends to let his emotions get the best of him when his father is involved, which usually results in him going in the hole. The emotional restraint necessary for Huck's professional life normally spills over into his personal life, but when he meets Billie Offer (Barrymore), a singer just off the bus from Bakersfield, he begins to realize that this may be a liability. Huck's efforts to scrounge up enough money to enter the World Series of Poker are subsequently complicated by his burgeoning relationship with Billie and his three decades of daddy issues coming to a head.
Every gambler's winning streak comes to an end eventually, and "Lucky You" finds director Curtis Hanson coming up short by more than just a few aces after a pretty decent string of films beginning with 1997's "L.A. Confidential". "Lucky You" tries to do for the world of professional gambling what "8 Mile" did for the world of Detroit underground rap battles. Unfortunately, the plot of the film feels like it was recycled from around a half a dozen 1980s Tom Cruise films (…remember the one where Tom Cruise played a bad boy with daddy issues with an unusual profession that his father shared who romanced a straight shooting girl who should have known better…). The romantic pairing of Barrymore and Bana generates absolutely zero on-screen heat. I normally like Bana as an actor, even when I do not like the film in which he appears, but he comes across pretty unconvincing in all of his scenes with Barrymore. He is a bit better when being flustered by Duvall, but there is not enough of this to save the movie, and their relationship resolves itself far too abruptly to be convincing or dramatically satisfying.
The clichéd drama is occasionally propped up by some amusing moments from Horatio Sanz and Saverio Guerra as a couple of compulsive proposition betters, but they feel like they are being flown in and out from another movie. Throwaway parts from actors of the caliber of Jean Smart, Debra Messing, Charles Martin Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. feel like missed opportunities for the screenplay to develop more interesting secondary characters.
In terms of capturing a world that most viewers will not be familiar with, Hanson and his collaborators do indeed get the poker details right. The hands played and betting are realistic. The production design impeccably recreates the circa-2003 atmosphere of iconic locations such as the Bellagio and Binion's Horseshoe. Many actual professional poker players fill out the supporting cast. It is no accident that the film is set in 2003. That was the year that professional poker in general, and the World Series of Poker Texas Hold 'Em tournament specifically, exploded into the public consciousness. Sports cable network ESPN not only greatly expanded their coverage of the event, but they introduced the novel concept of the hold card camera that would show the viewing audience the cards in each player's hands. This also coincided with the Cinderella story of internet player Chris Moneymaker, who came out of nowhere to win the tournament and convince nearly every amateur player with cable television that they had a chance to win. The subsequent popularity of Texas Hold 'Em poker made it a broadcast staple for all national sports networks achieving ratings that must be quite an embarrassment to the commissioner of the National Hockey League.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer features deep blacks with decent if not exceptional shadow detail in keeping with the film's occasionally intentional high-contrast cinematography. Edge ringing is minor, but noticeable, particularly on close-ups of spades and clubs. Most disappointing is a haze of grain that does not look especially film-like. This becomes most noticeable in poker montage scenes where short shots are cross-faded into each other including pans across green tables for close-ups of cards.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is much more satisfying than the video presentation, if not all that ambitious. Fidelity is very good in this straightforward, center-focused mix. Surround channels are used to create ambience, coming alive particularly in the scenes during the World Series of Poker event. Alternate French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also available.
When the disc first spins up, a skippable promo plays for the film's soundtrack CD.
From the DVD special features menu, two featurettes are selectable. Both are presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. Consisting of film clips, interview segments, and behind the scenes footage, they are letterboxed to a ratio of approximately 16:9 except for some brief clips from ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage that fill the whole 4:3 frame.
First up is "The Players at the Table", running eighteen minutes and one second. It focuses on the real poker players who were recruited to appear in the movie. Insights into the lives of real professional players are provided by Jason Lester, Doyle Brunson, Ted Forrest, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Sam Farha, Barry Greenstein, Erick Lindgren, David Oppenheim, Chau Giang, John Hennigan, Romeo Fermil, Norris Watsky, Sam O'Connor, Pat Callahan, Tina Schafer, and Ernie Cheung. Additional comments are provided by Director Curtis Hanson, Actor Eric Bana, and Producer Carol Fenelon.
Next up, "The Real Deal: The Time and Place of 'Lucky You'" runs fourteen minutes and 26 seconds. This featurette covers why the filmmakers decided to set their film in Las Vegas circa 2003 and how they went about recreating it. Interview participants include Hanson, Fenelon, Harman, Brunson, Lester, Production Designer Clay Griffith, Negreanu, World Series of Poker Tournament Consultant Matt Savage, Bana, Producer Denise Di Novi, and Hennigan. This is an excellent primer on the moment in time when the popularity of Texas Hold 'Em Poker exploded and how that affected professional players.
Additionally, a set of five brief Deleted Scenes runs a total of nine minutes and 8 seconds.
- Billy sings the George Jones song "Choices" in what looks like an audition which seamlessly cuts to a gig mid-song.
- Debra Messing as Billie's sister, Suzanne, lip-syncs a song underwater in a mermaid costume and then has a conversation with Billie about her relationship with Huck.
- A poker hand in which Huck takes two small-time players out of a game at once.
- Huck tries to borrow money from Lester.
- Two hands from an early round World Series of Poker game.
The film is packaged in a standard sized Amaray-style case with typical "Big Star Head" graphics. Kudos to Warner Bros. Home Video for continuing to include 30% post-consumer recycled plastic in their cases.
While fans of Poker will not have their intelligence insulted by the representation of the game in "Lucky You", fans of compelling drama are bound to be disappointed. The film receives a similarly disappointing video presentation with solid if unremarkable audio. The extras are slight, but in many ways more interesting than the feature, making one wish that Hanson had produced a documentary about the world of professional poker instead of this film.