Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

02 January 2008

Lucky You, dir. Curtis Hanson (2007)

STEVE says:
I did not have a good feeling about Lucky You for two reasons. One: Curtis Hanson, apart from LA Confidential, has never done much to impress me. And two: I just plain don’t get poker. On the plus side, it co-stars Drew Barrymore, who I don’t hate.

But even Drew let me down, as she wandered through this by-the-numbers story, spouting naïve, corn-fed dialog one minute, and switching to sage wisdom as soon as Eric Roth’s script decides that Robert Duvall needs to hear it. Tell me something: If she’s so smart, why’s she keep getting together with Bana’s Hank Cheever (!) when he's lied to her, used her, slept with her and stole from her, all within 24 hours of their meet-cute at the casino? She never once points out that he might just have a gambling problem (which he has no trouble breaking by the end of the movie), but can spontaneously give Duvall advice on how to deal with his estranged son.

And it all started off so strong. My misgivings about the film dissipated immediately in the opening scene when Bana walks into a pawn shop, trying to get the woman there to give him $300 for his digital camera. She wants to give him $150 because she already has three just like it. "Well, here's what you can do with four cameras," he says, "that you can't do with three: You take two of the cameras, you price them identically. The third camera, you price a little less. The fourth camera, you price a little higher." He then spins her a line about how the fourth camera, his camera, still in the box, will entice a hypothetical customer into buying one of the regular priced cameras. "He either buys one of your cameras for the regular price, which he now thinks is a bargain, or he springs for the one in the box because he plans to give it to someone as a present and he needs the box so it looks new, and not like some camera he just picked up in a pawn shop."

The woman counters, telling him that all her cameras have boxes. Bana assesses her, says "If you can show me your boxes, I'll give you my camera for nothing. But if you can't, you'll pay three bills for mine." Her bluff called, the woman offers him $150, plus an extra $50 "for the entertainment" and Bana walks away a winner.

With this scene, the movie sets him up as not just a gambler, but as a Gambler... and then goes on to contradict that set-up in every successive scene; we never see such cunning from him again.

In the new Casino Royale, Bond explains to Treasury officer Vesper Lynde that “in poker you never play your hand, you play the man across from you”, and then goes on to win every game based on the cards in his hand, and not on any particular skill he has at playing people. Same thing in Lucky You every single hand is won with the cards. Why bother setting this guy up as a player of people if it all comes down to the luck of the draw?

At 118 minutes, Lucky You was about 30 minutes too long. Had Hanson trimmed the poker scenes back and concentrated on character development, made me care about these people and – if not understand them, at least want to understand them, I might not have walked away feeling like I just got drowned in the river. Little poker simile for you there.

Not off to a great start here in the New Year. I give it 1.5 out of 5.

NIKKI says:
It is decided: you just can't fake good poker. It'd be good if you could, 'cause then
Lucky You might have given us something worth watching. Like the podraces in The Phantom Menace -- at least something might have allayed the boredom. The poker, though, is as contrived and unthrilling as the rest of the film, with cards falling exactly as they need to depending on whatever moral or emotional turn the film requires. Bana on top? We’ll give him three of a kind; Bana needs to learn a harsh lessen? Toss him some twos. And give his dad the Aces – that’ll learn ‘im. Only it won’t. These characters played the hands they were dealt, as the adage goes, but they certainly had the cards when they needed them. Listen up Hollywood, one last time: It’s not a good poker win if you have the best hand. Well, not as good as it could be, should be, wanted to be in this movie.

Oh, and I was so into this. Mainly, to be honest, because of the poker. A good poker story needs telling, and I pinned a few too many hopes on this being the film to do it. I don’t really know why, come to think of it, as Curtis Hanson is remarkably hit and miss as a director. Then again, the writer, Eric Roth, did write Suspect, so I don’t know what the hell happened here. I figure after seeing the beautiful, time-honoured, classy game of Holdem raped, flogged, and burned at the stake in Casino Royale last year, perhaps I figured anything had to be better.

Annoyingly, this fails even as a standard romance. Card games aside, the she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not push-me-pull-you games played by Bana and Barrymore are flaccid at best. A surprise really, since Bana is way affable and Barrymore’s life’s work, these days, seems to be perfecting the flighty yet lovable romantic interest. Here he doesn’t know whether to be sensitive guy looking for love, or a light-fingered cad. And she can’t decide between naïve waif or wise woman just not “wanting to be lonely” (barf). The pair rarely light up the screen, but, really, through no fault of their own. Their dialogue is appalling, peppered with poker metaphors (“I made a good fold,” Drew says, as she walks away from poker-obsessed Bana for the second time), and devoid of any real meaning – how can we feel much from a woman who storms off accusing Bana of selfishness and greed and “it’s all about you!” and then continues to help him gamble and bet his way into a poker tournament? And Bana! Is it me, or does he only ever visit Drew when he needs money? When he’s ready to be the good guy?

I wasn’t really sure either of them gave anything specific to the other, and so, I didn’t know what to hold on as far as wanting them to stay together, knowing they were each other’s saviour. I thought Bana’s relationship with Debra Messing’s character was bucketloads more interesting. But she served no eventual purpose, except to warn Drew off the bad-news Bana but then never really explain why.

This is the main problem here – Bana never loses. He gets the girl, he loses her, she comes back. Same with his dad, his mom’s ring, his good fortune at the tables. There’s no bottom here. Bana just keeps on winning, on everyone else’s dime. And that selfishness Drew called him out for is never excised or really even acknowledged anywhere else in the film. Were Bana’s character the sort that gets by on hustle ability, then that’s one thing. But his hustling is overrun by exceeding stupidity. Get the girl in bed … steal from her! Get the ten grand needed to enter the poker championship … uh, lose it all to dad in a childish game of my Ace is bigger than your Ace. And in that scene, when his dad tries to give the money back, Bana’s all “I’m not that kind of player”. Um, you are. Take from someone else, Eric, it’s what you do! And, in the end, his obsession – the same obsession that caused Drew so much heartache – is tossed away because Bana suddenly gets a conscience, suddenly realizes that perhaps it’s not all about poker and winning. I can’t believe he didn’t come to that conclusion after running Benny Hill-style, sweat-soaked around a golf course for three hours (what was that?).

Too little, far too late. So badly written. But then, like the podraces, there was something sort of fun to do while Bana and Barrymore whined and sulked. We played Spot the Poker Star! Daniel Negreanu was in there, Erik Lindgren, the Magcian, Barry Greenstein. Steve missed seeing Vince Van Patten, I could tell.


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