'Lucky You' opens promisingly with an entertaining scene in a Las Vegas pawn shop, as Eric Bana attempts to hawk a digital camera for a $300 buy-in for poker. We then see the dizzying highs and sickening lows of the game as he builds up a large stack of chips before losing them all with the turn of a card.
Bana plays high rolling poker player Huck Cheever, who has an innate skill at reading people's tells. His emotions at the poker table often undermine his talent, however, especially when he's competing against his estranged father.
LC Cheever, played by Robert Duvall, is a poker legend, a two-time winner of the World Series of Poker whose legacy casts a long shadow over Huck. There is long standing rivalry and tension between the two, as LC walked out on Huck's mother.
The main thrust of the film follows Huck's attempts to rustle up the $10,000 buy-in for a seat in the 2003 World Series of Poker. It's a case of easy come easy go, as he wins and loses the cash in quick succession. Along the way, he is also gambling with the affections of lounge singer Billy Offer, played by Drew Barrymore, who becomes increasingly frustrated with his rash behaviour and gambling streak.
The relationship is unlikely from the start. Huck is as much a hustler with women as he is with poker, yet Billy somehow sees some good in him, even after he steals from her after their first night together.
Barrymore doesn't have much to work with as the doe-eyed love interest. Her character is essentially one-dimensional, devoid of cynicism and endlessly optimistic; she is the antidote to Huck's compulsive gambler. Barrymore is given some unfortunately cheesy dialogue, in one scene proclaiming out of the blue: "I think people are just trying not to be lonely."
Although the film is sold as a romantic comedy from the trailer, it is closer to a poker drama, with some father-son relationship trouble thrown in for good measure. The focus is definitely on the poker end of things, which makes the blossoming romance with Billy seem like an afterthought.
Some of the world's best known poker players had a hand in the movie. Veteran player Doyle Brunson was the film's poker consultant, advising on how to portray life at the table. The film is also littered with real fixtures of the professional circuit, such as Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth.
The film certainly can't be faulted in accuracy stakes, although the amount of time given over to tedious sessions at the table really won't interest many but poker enthusiasts.
The film plods its way along to the inevitable father and son showdown at the World Series of Poker. The problem is that we're not really rooting for the unsympathetic Huck, in either his success in the tournament, or his wooing of Billy.
This low-stakes drama just fails to excite.