Let me make a bet with you.
I bet you didn´t know that 50 million people - roughly one in five Americans - play poker in the USA, and there are 150 million regular poker players around the world.
Let me make another bet with you.
I bet you didn´t know that, since 2003, ESPN has televised 32 hours of World Championship Poker every year. And since then, casinos have reported a 370% rise in the number of people who play tournament poker.
Here´s another one.
I bet you didn´t know that 70% of the poker television audience is male, aged between 21 and 49, and only 5% of high stakes poker players are women.
Finally, and don´t try to bluff me here, I bet that if you understand and like poker, you will like "Lucky You". If you don´t, you probably won´t.
Lucky You is set during the lead up to the 2003 World Poker Championships in Las Vegas. This is the year poker really became popular as a spectator event. The film follows the story of Huck Cheever (Australian Eric Bana), a professional poker player with more chips on his shoulder than on the table. Living under the shadow of his Poker Champion father LC Cheever (Robert Duvall), Huck has developed the perfect poker persona - live on instinct, live on the edge, and at all costs avoid showing your opponent your emotions. As a result, he can read people like a book.That is, until Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) enters his life. Suddenly Huck has to let his "poker face" drop and open up his feelings. But to change his life, he must change his game. And the World Poker Championships are in his sights...
Lucky You comes from the pen of Eric Roth, who gave us classics such as Forrest Gump, The Insider, and Steven Spielberg´s Munich. It is directed by Curtis Hanson (8 Mile, Wonderboys), who should be used to working with Australians after directing LA Confidential. With an award winning production team, it is hard to see how this film could go wrong.
Lucky You has an identity crisis. It doesn´t know what it wants to be.
The trailer cries "romantic comedy", and there are occasional light hearted funny moments and colourful comic relief characters, but the romance is bland and 2-dimensional. I´ve seen more convincing chemistry between trees. Drew Barrymore plays the sort of character she plays best - innocent and bumbling - the sort of character that makes the boys not care that they have dribble running down their chins and into their popcorn. However, it is a character that is not really developed, and half the time is forgotten about. One minute she is there, the next minute she is gone and we are wondering why our popcorn is soggy. So, is it a drama? Well, it is certainly tedious enough at times to be classed as a drama. But most of that tedium comes from the constant pathetic romantic poker metaphors, and from the poker itself. If you do not understand poker, then you might as well go outside and watch the trees chat each other up.
I think the best way to describe Lucky You is as a "period" piece. 2003 was an important year for poker, and this movie tries to recreate the feeling of Las Vegas in that year. Curtis Hanson has painstakingly recreated the casinos from that year, and many famous real life poker players make cameos.
I say famous, although I didn´t realise who they were until the end credits.
I still don´t know who they were.
The production design is stylish, and the scenery is fantastic. Anyone who has been to Vegas will know how fake everything feels. The costumes feel right in this production, and the cinematography is sometimes grand, sometimes understated, and sometimes captures all that is fake about the City of Sin. But it fails to give us that dusty, smokey flavour of the Aladdin Casino at 5 am. I was waiting for Robert Duvall, veteran of
Apocalypse Now, to suddenly yell "I love the smell of cigarettes and stale beer in the morning!" Curtis Hanson has delivered a film that feels formulaic and bland, with unconvincing romance and long tedious poker segments. It is generally dull, with a sense of "seen it before". There is, however, a smattering of film
industry "in jokes" that keeps it interesting for some of us, in the same way that the poker segments keep it interesting for the gambling fans, and the golf segments keep it interesting for the tree porn fans.
One last bet:
Two days after watching this film, I bet you won´t remember it. You will remember going to the theater, and coming home from the theater, but that is all. You will wonder why your memory has a big black hole in it, and why you have big chunks of popcorn stuck to your favourite shirt.
And why you look at trees differently now.