PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Lucky You (2006)

The cuts are obvious, the rhythms sluggish, and the dialogue redundant, as if the movie's afraid you've missed it the first time.

Lucky You

Director: Curtis Hanson
Cast: Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Debra Messing, Horatio Sanz, Robert Downey Jr.
Distributor: Warner Brothers
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Brothers
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2007-05-04 (General release)

For a single, strangely mesmerizing scene, Robert Downey Jr. shows up in Lucky You. As a scam artist egregiously named Telephone Jack, he hardly moves, but sits at a bar in Vegas, where he has an assortment of phones with labels like "900-Defense" or "900-Mental," listening to three or four calls at the same time, producing stock but compassionate-sounding advice for callers in distress. His old friend, dead-broke poker player Huck (Eric Bana), stops by to ask him for a loan, "to get me going again." Jack's heard this plaint before, and doesn't entertain it for a second. Instead, he puts Huck on a call, as "our relationship and commitment expert." When Huck blows off the caller in a hurry, Jack stops him: "Rule number one," he instructs. "Be a listener."

The scene is sweet for a number of reasons, not least being the little ballet that Downey manages among Jack's phones, his eyes darting, his hands in constant motion, his mind plainly in gear. Huck, by contrast, lumbers, so intent on his single purpose that he can't keep two ideas in his head at the same time. This is his gambler's curse, of course, which the movie goes on to demonstrate repeatedly: he steals money from his girlfriend, he challenges his famous cardplayer father, he misses a dealer's mistake because he's so focused on his opponent in relation to his own supreme skill. Huck can't even pretend to listen: he's perpetually in pursuit of his next fix.

That Jack never comes back, and the film instead follows Huck out the door (without his loan), is a disappointment. Not only does Huck's story lack the grace and energy so visible in Jack's four minutes on screen, but the movie's very structure turns clunky too. Huck's compulsion sets him down at tables for hours on end (late night-early morning sessions are marked by waiters delivering plates of scrambled eggs to players unable to pause even for meals); the camera watches him watching other players who watch him back, the shot-reverse shots poky and elementary; occasionally, to suggest "time passing," the frame picks up a passer-by, following him through a casino room until he walks by the very table you were just looking at. The cuts are obvious, the rhythms sluggish, and the dialogue redundant (by the time the big showdown arrives at the World Series of Poker, the TV announcer is repeating every move and line ("Call," says Huck, followed by the announcement, "Huck calls"), as if the movie's afraid you've missed lines the first time.

The slow pace is exacerbated by the rehashed plot. Huck is a soul in need of redemption, which arrives in two forms: the father, LC (Robert Duvall) who needs to be forgiven, and the girlfriend, Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) who doesn't appear to need anything but falls for Huck because that's her job here. The daddy story has roots that have to do with the predictably dead mother, apparently so worn out by her ex-husband's compulsion that her heart broke, but not before she passed on her pain and sadness to her son. Huck has taken up daddy's profession (and not "English teacher," which is what LC was before he started gambling), which makes everything double-stakes, because LC is a two-time world champ, invited to play on the Riviera because poker's TV popularity means the tournaments need "celebrity gamblers" (the French, mutters LC, both creepy and disdainful, "They hate our politics, but they love our games"). Now Huck has to resent dad and live up to his legend -- plainly impossible.

(L-R) Poker pros SAM FARHA and CHAU GIANG flank L.C. Cheever (ROBERT DUVALL) at the poker table

(L-R) Poker pros SAM FARHA and CHAU GIANG flank L.C. Cheever (ROBERT DUVALL) at the poker table

At the same time, he meets Billie, whose sister Suzanne (a teeny and unnecessary part for Debra Messing, no longer a movie star following The Wedding Date) warns her not to like Huck because he's a gambler and opportunist. Ah well. Just arrived from Bakersfield, Billie has a '40s hairstyle and costumes (she first appears in a neat little red polka dot number Gene Tierney could have worn) and gets a gig singing on her first day in town: that it's a dive that seats about 12 customers makes her couple of performances look both poignant and weird, like she's walked into the wrong movie.

Unlike Downey, Barrymore appears in multiple scenes and, despite her overwhelming charm, poor Billie looks lost in every one of them. To demonstrate her interest in Huck, she lends him money to win a poker game (he's desperate to make the World Series' $10,000 entry fee), times his race through a golf course to win a bet with Ready Eddie (Horatio Sanz), double-takes broadly when introduced to his friend Lester (Saverio Guerra), who has had breast implants to win a bet. She's even willing to take a very conveniently timed cell phone call at a diner, just when LC shows up, and stays off screen long enough for them to hash through the past, play poker, and argue. Then she pops back just in time to tell off LC concerning good fathering. As if all this brilliant supportive girlfriend business isn't enough, she wears goofy platform sandals -- trotting along on the golf course without even seeming to teeter.

You have to love Billie, and you understand why Huck wants to. What's hard to see is what she sees in him. Because she's in a movie where she's a sign of Huck's reconciliation with his dad, she has precious little to do but react to her man's needs and misbehaviors. When he steals from her to fund a night at the poker table, she flounces, "I'm not a bank. You can't make deposits and withdrawals whenever you want"; when he comes to watch her perform, she sings, "You think you're a real man, but you're a real fool." Her lines are badly written, her plot options limited. If only she could meet Telephone Jack, who could at least pretend to listen to her.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.