|Aspiring singer Drew Barrymore gets involved with Las Vegas card shark Eric Bana in "Lucky You." (merie w. wallace/warner bros. via ap)|
Excitement isn't in the cards in 'Lucky You'
Any woman who goes to Las Vegas and falls for a man named Huck is asking for trouble. That's what Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore ) gets in "Lucky You," a mixed-up romantic sports comedy of sorts set in the Vegas poker world, with Eric Bana as the troublemaking Huck.
Billie is an aspiring singer from Bakersfield , Calif. And we know Barrymore is in trouble the minute she opens her mouth. Her voice is high and airy, like her hair. Billie is a guest of her sister, and she's stuffed full of dreams. She speaks in dreamy cadences, as if everything, especially poker, is something she's experiencing for the first time after seeing it in her sleep.
Playing the character with this much girlish innocence is risky. Barrymore can seem dumb, but as "Lucky You" unfolds, we realize that the character is just a device to bring viewers into the parallel universe of poker.
It's a man's world. Jean Smart has a small part as a top player, and the person doing the commentating makes sure we know it's a big deal. The thrust of the movie concerns Bana's self-destructive ace and his odd, competitive relationship with his estranged father, a championship oldster that Robert Duvall plays with his usual cocky wisdom.
They enter a million-dollar tournament that takes up the movie's back half -- it's like "The Color of Chips," and during the big contest, Barrymore shows up in the audience and just recedes into the anonymity of spectatorship. Yet her character is crucial to the film, which was directed by Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential ," "Wonder Boys ," "8 Mile "), who wrote the script with Eric Roth .
Huck meets Billie at some kind of sports pavilion (there's indoor volleyball), where a stranger is hitting on her. Sensing an opportunity to assert his ego, Huck steps in, pretending to be her boyfriend, a move she clearly finds charming.
Her sister (Debra Messing ) then steps in and makes us promptly aware that Huck is bad news. "Hustle 10, commitment zero," she warns, apparently from experience. But it's too late. In that dreamy voice, Billie wonders if she can change him and spends the rest of the movie being let down.
Their first "date" is at the poker table, where he explains, with a note of exasperation, how the game works. These early scenes are interesting because you're curious about what he sees in this woman with the big hair, nervous singing voice, and open heart. And after he sneaks off with $1,200 of her money, you get it.
But Billie doesn't learn the hard way. She doesn't learn at all. And the movie doesn't justify her tolerance for such a selfish man. Her attempts to teach him scruples, sensitivity, and love are frustrating, like watching a Jehovah's Witness keep knocking on an atheist's door.
To be fair , Bana is seductively handsome. The opening scene in which Huck tries to sell a camera to a pawn shop owner (Phyllis Somerville ) who doesn't need it is a wonderful introduction to a desperate man who knows his charm is another form of capital.
This could have been a movie of finesse, screwball romantic comedy, or breezy cynicism, in the vein of Ernst Lubitsch , Preston Sturges , or Billy Wilder (Robert Downey Jr. has a tiny part as a 900-number schemer that shows you how that film might have gone). But Hanson is a director with masculine sensitivities. As "In Her Shoes" demonstrated two years ago, he can't walk in heels.
"Lucky You" could also have been dark and bruising, though perhaps Hanson is defending against cliche. Huck is roughed up some but never has his knuckles crushed, and Billie is never assaulted. There are no drugs or goons or any consequence. No one drinks irresponsibly or has sex that we can see. This is a TV drama version of Las Vegas -- even more so than the TV version of Las Vegas already on NBC.
In going for a kind of relaxed air, Hanson and Roth have sterilized their movie, boxed in all the human contours. They're playing as close to the vest as anyone sitting at those card tables.