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In Lucky You, Robert Duvall wears a rather ugly hairpiece, but as we soon learn that is part of the point with the character he’s playing. Similarly, Eric Bana’s performance in the central role withholds at least as much as it reveals, and that too has much to do with the film’s mildly perplexed, glancingly ironic portrait of a young professional gambler.
Stuff like that might make you think Curtis Hanson’s new movie is more interesting for what it’s not than for what it is. As a character-driven yarn about big-time poker players, it offers little in the way of big emotional and dramatic wallops, and the plotline is meandering and anecdotal at best. And yet Hanson and his diverse cast of actors do generate a steady interest in offbeat character and sub-cultural atmosphere.
Hanson and co-writer Eric Roth have put some stock story materials into the mix—a bittersweet love story involving Huck Cheever (Bana) and an aspiring nightclub singer (Drew Barrymore), a sprawlingly tangled father-son relationship (Huck’s dad, played by Duvall, is also a professional gambler), and a curiously scattered coming-of-age tale. The picture also dabbles in parables about risk-taking and moral integrity, and does so with a certain charmingly offhanded conviction. The film is at its best when it’s working up cinematic variations on the poker players’ skill at reading each other’s emotional qualities.
Even as it ventures into the territory of cliché, the film avoids blatant pandering to the big-box-office mentality. And while it’s easy to imagine a more conspicuously attractive version of it with actors other than Bana and Barrymore in the lead roles, Lucky You gets good mileage out of the cast it actually has. And that includes Debra Messing in an ironic big-sister role, Jean Smart as a particularly compelling presence among the poker players, Charles Martin Smith as a not-so-harmless doofus, and sardonic cameos from Phyllis Somerville and Robert Downey Jr. as a phone-in psychologist.