May 14, 2007

On Lucky You

“Lucky You”, Curtis Hanson’s newest confection, has the feel of a misbegotten love affair to it. The movie doesn’t really work on any of the levels it should; its muddled thematic concerning fathers and sons and relationships and poker never feeling authentic or especially compelling.

Eric Bana is Huck Cheever, a poker wiz just like his father L.C. (Robert DuVall, terrific as always) who lives an unsatisfying Las Vegas existence of hustling also-rans and blowing big stakes on his ill-conceived bets. Huck, who lives in a unfurnished home with a swimming pool, can turn $300 dollars into $10,000 on a routine night in a Vegas gambling den, but his self-destructive side, inherited from his wayward father of course, always leads him astray. Enter Billy Offer (Drew Barrymore) an aspiring singer from Bakersfield. Of course, she presents his second chance. As the World Series of Poker looms, the father son duo will surely play out their Oedipal clichés on ESPN2.

Mrs. Barrymore and Mr. Bana lack the chemistry or the writing to involve us intimately in their romance and the script derives so much material from the recycled treads of past romantic comedies and mid-life bildungromans to make its characters as bland and synthetic as its backdrops luscious and mysterious. The film’s genuine thrills are provided by Mr. DuVall, making the most of a thin script by providing L.C. with a seasoned, yet delicate nature, an English teacher who found and lost himself in cards and has come to possess the knowledge of the game’s proper place in life that his son sorely lacks. Long time David Lynch cinematographer Peter Deming contributes a workmanlike palette and tones down his usual dynamism for Mr. Hanson’s relaxed style, even as his stark blacks, reds and browns contrast nicely with the deserts pastel and golf course dominated emptiness.

Since the end of his days as a top flight Hollywood hack for hire (let’s call it the “Bad Influence”/”Hand That Rock The Cradle” period), Hanson’s movies have been award worthy Hollywood prestige pictures for the better part of a decade. Even when he jumped into bed with the likes of Eminem in “8 mile”, you knew that Hanson’s craft would outshine the vanities of moonlighting pop stars. All of this casts the failure of “Lucky You” in a strange light. One senses the pull that the script certainly had on Hanson; he’s from all accounts an avid poker fan. Yet this by the numbers text, oddly enough by one of Hollywood’s most gifted screenwriters in Eric Roth (“The Insider”, “Forrest Gump”, “The Good Shepard”), never feels fresh, and its execution never feels organically mounted, sincerely performed and has certainly received the short shrift in terms of a release; the initial fall launch and the Oscar campaign we’re put aside for an unspectacular April release. One hopes that Mr. Hanson, like his most interesting characters, returns to form after this misstep.