May 10, 2007

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Lucky You (PG-13)
Drew Barrymore scrapes at my nerves with her crazy stilted acting, delivering a standout horrible performance in the aggravatingly bad Lucky You, the tale of a mopey gambler and his lousy gambling.

Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is a professional poker player, hitting the tables nightly at the casinos of Las Vegas to earn his keep. As he lives in a house devoid of furniture and gets his playing money by pawning family heirlooms and his roommate’s stuff, I gather there ain’t a whole lot of keep in Huck’s life. Nevertheless, he works hard at the grind of making decent money and then gambling it all away. Mere days before the World Series of Poker, Huck finds himself about $10,000 light on the $10,000 entrance fee for the event. He refuses to ask fellow gambler and father L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall) for the money. But he sees charming, unsubtly-named Las Vegas newcomer Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) and decides that perhaps he can fleece her for the money.

Well, to be fair, he’s not outright mugging her. Instead, when he hears she’s got some traveler’s checks, he gets her to cash them and “teaches” her how to play poker, winning enough to give her back her money plus some. Then, he gambles with his dad and loses his winnings. Then he steals from Billie again, this time taking cash out of her purse as she lays sleeping in his bed (classy!). She reacts less well to this — especially since he doesn’t have the money to pay her back right away — but continues to hang out with him. After he loses a full $10,000 that belonged to some shady character who fronted him the cash for the competition, she even hangs with him while he tries to win a ridiculously stupid bet to get the money back.

Billie returns to Huck’s side again and again, even though he keeps taking her cash and doesn’t appear to like her very much. Don’t feel too sorry for her, however. With all of Billie’s ham-fisted moralizing and breathy naïve baby talk, I think Huck’s getting the worst end of the deal. He might be a gambler with lousy luck and only moderate skill but she’s a whiny lounge singer with a weak voice. Can’t wait to have a couple’s night at their house! (What a lovely dinner party it would be with their one chair, their stolen booze and their collection of casino poker chips.)

Lucky You is ponderous — its scenes of Huck’s wins and losses go on forever and even the complex rascal of Robert Duvall’s character isn’t enough to wake up the scenes of Huck’s desperation. Worse, though, is that throughout its two-plus hours, Lucky You drowns us in some of the most horrible dialogue ever to mangle a poker metaphor. Billie “folds” on her relationship with Huck; L.C. and Huck only converse by chiding each other about their bets at the poker table. The movie groans and trembles under the weight of lines so soaked in hokeyness that even a soap opera wouldn’t use them now. You’d have to go back to early Aaron Spelling to find speeches (when you get a good thing, you always let it go, a female friend tells Huck; you play poker like you should live your life and you live you life like you should play poker, L.C. tells Huck and then explains what he means for, like, a week) so fraught with silly melodrama.

Lucky You knows that it’s bad, just like a drunk doing shots and sweating beer at 10 in the morning knows he’s a drunk and yet the movie can’t stop itself. Barrymore never looks like more than a bad parody of the sweet patsy that is the only motivation her one-dimensional character is given. Bana spends the movie looking lost and shocked — a state I think we’re supposed to read as a commentary on his shambles of a life. I think, instead, it’s Bana’s genuine reaction to giving voice to such idiocy. After a serious movie like Munich, he’s probably thinking, how could I possibly have wound up here? Dude, you and me both. D

Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual humor (though honestly, I don’t remember any humor of any kind). Directed by Curtis Hanson and written by Hanson and Eric Roth, Lucky You is two hours and four minute long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow International.