After several delayed release dates, Warner Bros. finally lays down its cards with “Lucky You,” and it’s a weak hand. Set around the 2003 World Series of Poker, the pic spends so much time at the tables that director Curtis Hanson fails to do much else — beginning with establishing a personality for star Eric Bana or developing his relationship with Drew Barrymore. Despite departing from certain expectations inherent in a sports/gambling movie, the result is dull and lifeless, and, while launching opposite “Spider-Man 3” might charitably be called counterprogramming, the view from the gallery suggests the studio is folding early.
The timing for a poker movie, frankly, looks especially deadly, with the phenomenon having become so prevalent on cable TV (where gambling manufactures drama at a bargain price) that it’s not uncommon to flip on the tube and find poker on a half-dozen channels. “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” with actors as themselves, is probably more alluring.
The point of entry into this high-stakes world is Huck Cheever (Bana), a professional with a take-no-prisoners approach to the game and serious issues regarding his dad L.C. (Robert Duvall), a two-time poker champ who abandoned Huck’s mother and has been fleecing his kid at cards for years.
Described as “Hustle, 10; Commitment, 0” in the ladies department, Huck nevertheless finds a little time to woo the newly arrived Billie (Barrymore), bringing her with him on a poker date that, more than anything, functions as an extended (and mostly tedious) tutorial for uninitiated audience members on rules of the game.
Huck needs 10 grand to buy into the World Series and pursue its $2.5 million payday, but he has a bad habit of gambling away cash every time he gets his hands on it, prompting him to seek or deny help from a variety of shady characters, including a phone-scam artist (Robert Downey Jr., in a worthless cameo), a money man (Charles Martin Smith), and one of those morons who bets on anything just for the action (“Saturday Night Live’s” Horatio Sanz).
Winning and losing his buy-in stake in the build-up to the inevitable tourney drags on interminably, and pic squeezes in Huck’s seduction, alienation and contrition toward Billie almost as an afterthought. Bana is constrained to sauntering through the entire movie with a blank poker face, and, while Duvall and Barrymore have moments, they’ve each been dealt these cards too many times to count — including Barrymore’s romantic turn in “Music and Lyrics,” which was produced after this and released by Warnersless than three months ago.
Working with writer Eric Roth, Hanson adds to an eclectic resume that includes “L.A. Confidential” and “In Her Shoes,” and he’s sought to bring a high degree of verisimilitude to the poker action — including more than two dozen characters credited as playing themselves. As presented, though, there’s minimal tension — in part because there’s no real heavy — and a hole-cards-eye view doesn’t really improve that much on the way card games have been shot dating back to “The Cincinnati Kid.”
Pic does feature a strong song score, including Bruce Springsteen’s appropriately titled “Lucky Town,” but even that can’t provide the movie much of a pulse. As for the studio, there’s so little to market here other than Bana (whose fans even circulated an online petition seeking to hasten the film’s release) that the ad campaign almost appears designed for a different movie.
Ultimately, even for a poker movie, there’s simply too much card-playing here with too little payoff. As the pic finally hits theaters, “Lucky You’s” luck has probably run out.