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Lucky You (9/10)

by Tony Medley

I used to play in a poker game and I was pretty good. I generally came out ahead. Occasionally weíd need a substitute and there was a little guy from the Valley who would fill in. He didnít say much, was kind of a caspar milquetoast kind of guy. But he ended up with all the chips. Every time we played, he ended up with all the chips. Finally, whenever weíd need a substitute, people would say, ďAnybody but that guy from the Valley.Ē If anything ever did, that convinced me that poker is a game of skill.

Itís also a game of making decisions and I had one to make for this screening, because it conflicted with the IMAX screening of Spiderman 3. I didnít have to think too long because Spidey epitomizes everything I dislike about American films, too much money, too much special effects, too little story and script. This decision was a winner because I loved Lucky You.

Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is a professional poker player in Las Vegas. He was trained by his old man, L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall), a two-time world champion from whom he is estranged. Huck meets and falls for Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), a fledgling singer with high moral values.

This is another in a growing line of good sports movies. Maybe poker isnít a sport, but itís a competitive game and a movie about it should fit into the sport genre. Everything about this movie is good, the script (Eric Roth & Curtis Hanson), the story (Roth), the directing (Hanson), the cinematography (Peter Deming), and the acting. In order to emphasize the realism of the film, many of the bit players at the poker table are real pros. The way Huck plays with his chips was something that took him weeks to master, but master it he did. Maybe the way he tries to look for ďtellsĒ in his opponents is a little overdone, but if so, itís for dramatic purposes and it works.

All the hands that are played are based on actual hands that have been played in tournaments. The poker is deftly spread throughout a nice love story between Huck and Billie. Even though the movie is a couple of minutes over two hours, I never got fidgety and didnít look at my watch once. There are lots of poker hands, but they are handled in such a way that they enhance, rather than slow down, the pace of the film.

Bana gives an exceptional performance as the young pro trying to make it in the shadow of his father, and Duvall gives one of his patented performances. What a character actor! Bana not only looks like a poker player, even to the way he shuffles his chips, but he also looks like a golfer as he runs around a course trying to win a bet by shooting a  specific score in three hours. It was also nice to see Jean Smart in the unfortunately small role of one of the poker players, Michelle Carson. Jean gave a memorable performance last year as the wife of the POTUS in the top-rated TV Series, 24. I would have liked to have seen more of her.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable film that I hated to see end.

May 2, 2007