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Movie Review: Lucky You

Movie Falls Short Showing High-Stakes Poker in Vegas


With apologies to all the world-class poker players and industry insiders who gave their time to Lucky You. Warning: The following article contains spoilers.

We all had high hopes for Lucky You, the first big-time poker movie to be released since poker went from fad to the nation's game. We saw that director Curtis Hanson's resume included the fantastic movies 8 Mile and L.A. Confidential. We saw the amazing list of poker players who agreed to help with and appear in the movie, and we got excited.

We were ready to see Doyle Brunson go heads-up with Robert Duvall. We couldn't wait to see Eric Bana's character put Phil Hellmuth on tilt with a great play and how the 2003 World Series of Poker would look on the big screen.

Most important, we were ready to see a poker movie that showed how tough, high-stakes poker players live, work, and love in Las Vegas. Instead, we got Drew Barrymore playing a grown woman as if she was an 8-year-old girl.

The people who made Lucky You took unprecedented access to the world's most respected poker players and blew a chance to make an authentic movie about what it's like to live and compete in their world. Instead, the players become merely background in a movie that fails in just about every way.

Bana plays Huck Cheever, a professional poker player who has problems hanging on to his bankroll, despite his obvious ability as a player. His father, L.C. Cheever, is played by Robert Duvall, a legendary poker pro who left Huck and his mom to pursue a career at the tables. They of course don't get along.

Barrymore plays a sickeningly innocent singer from Bakersfield named Billie, who somehow catches Bana's eye, despite seemingly only being able to talk in clichés. After one date, they're emotionally attached to each other, even though Cheever lifts $1,000 worth of traveler's checks from Billie's purse the morning after they got together. Cheever needs the money to try to win his way into in the WSOP main event.

In the meantime, Huck keeps running into L.C. in random places in scenes that are supposed to show how the two got to such an uncomfortable place. They bump into each other several times at the Bellagio's big game, as well as at Binion's, where the WSOP took place in 2003.

The movie climaxes with both Huck and L.C. at the final table of the WSOP main event, which blows by in less than 15 minutes. This is where we see many of the players, but only in a short collage that's meant to color the scenes.

Even the scenes of the "big game" at the Bellagio, which feature Chau Giang, Daniel Negreanu, Ted Forrest, Sammy Farha, Barry Greenstein, Erick Lindgren, Jason Lester, and others, are poker-chip flat. Sure, the sets look incredible (the Bellagio remodeled its poker room in 2004 and filmmakers were able to buy and build a set with everything from the old poker room and a copy of Benny's Bullpen was built in California), but the games come off more like a council meeting than a high-stake poker match.

The players have little or nothing to do with the scenes. There's no great confrontation with the characters and the players and we never get to see them actually play any hands. Even Doyle Brunson gets only about 25 seconds and we never get to see him play. The players were basically background in an attempt to give the film authenticity.

What a bummer.

The hands played in the card games and the look of the poker games are two of the best things about Lucky You, but the producers had great help. Doyle Brunson scripted all the hands and the betting action, and Lester acted as the consultant for the 2003 WSOP.

These features are spot on.

Also, tournament guru Matt Savage and John Hennigan both shine in Lucky You. Savage plays Gil the tournament director, and takes the role of narrator for just about all the WSOP scenes. He does a fantastic job. Hennigan, with his intimidating bald dome, plays tough poker pro Ralph Kaczynski at the WSOP final table. We all know Ralph is a mean guy because he refused to shake a player's hand after he was eliminated and wears scary-looking sunglasses, but that's about the extent of what we learn about him and that's a shame.

The way the world of prop betting is portrayed is also a fun addition. The movie features a crazy prop-bet character with breast implants, ala Brian Zembic, the real-life prop-bet maniac who won $100,000 when someone bet him he wouldn't get a boob job. He's fun to watch, but unfortunately, the script calls for the character to spend a month in a bathroom (which is another bet that Zembic actually won), so we rarely get to see him.

There's also a fun scene showing Cheever trying to win a prop bet by running five miles and golfing a 78 or less in less than three hours. Horatio Sanz plays the guy who proposed the bet, and it is fun to watch him up there acting insane, but we don't get enough of it. And even this scene is ruined by the sappiness that permeates the entire movie. Driving on the golf course, Billie again breaks up with Cheever (no matter that they only went on one date) with a line about knowing when to fold a bad hand.

After about two years of waiting for Lucky You, expectations may have gotten out of hand, but who could blame us? Looking at all the poker players the producers manage to assemble, it's hard to believe the end result. It's been almost nine years since the last good poker movie, Rounders, came out. Who knows how long poker fans will have to wait for another one.

Did you see the movie and want to comment about it? Feel free to talk about Lucky You in the comments section below.



over 14 years ago

Id rather see Rounders 2-the demise of Worm then this movie


over 14 years ago

I enjoyed the vegas scenery and the backgroud noise that was the poker,but to much romance, and who on earth would dump Pocket Aces at the final table of the WSOP, I would destroy my sweet old grandmother to be A World Champion. We need a movie that doen't overblow cheating or romance I want the intensity of a poker background


over 14 years ago

It is a real shame that a movie with so much potential, was this bad.


over 14 years ago

why was drew barrymore in this movie?? to ruin it? oh thats right to show us that HUCK really has a heart of gold. bllllleeeeak!!! it really could have been a great poker/vegas/gambler movie for the ages. it HAD all the ingredients. director,prodution value,quirkey cast members, real poker players,vegas,take offs on real stories but they throw in crap and ruin it.


over 14 years ago

I am an amateur movie producer and movie writer. I should write a brilliant poker movie that shows how poker stars are truley made from their first poker experiences to becoming seasoned proffesional with incredible math and psycological skills. email me


over 14 years ago

Since at least 1000 of us saved at least $10 each (including popcorn) by not viewing this dreck, we should all chip in and buy Bob Pajich's way into the real Main Event (or at least De La Hoya - Mayweather II). Thanks, Bob.


over 14 years ago

I almost didn't go to see this movie because of your review. There were many fine aspects. The poker hands were played exactly how they would really be played. The look and feel of the people were right on. There were no ridiculous caricatures of poker players. The scenery was realistic. Overall. the movie was respectful of poker. I think you set the bar too high. It wasn't The Hustler, but it made it past the bubble.


over 14 years ago

seen it last night the only thing that was good was seein the top pros but that was about the extent of it more of a chic flic than poker movie rounders kills it in my opinion'


over 14 years ago

I saw the premiere at Red Rock and the best part was the after party. The movie was just plain old bad. It was so predictable. Don't waste your time!


over 14 years ago

Don't be so hard on the movie. It's not made for the readers of Card Player - it's made for occasional poker players and their significant others. It's not meant to be "High Stakes Poker" - it's about life (for lack of a better word) not poker.

Just about every scene with Drew Barrymore in it is quite bad, but otherwise this is a good movie. The poker is good, the prop-betting antics are good, the compulsive behavior and resultant drama are spot-on.

If you gamble a lot, don't bring your spouse, though. The Drew Barrymore scenes might appeal somewhat to poker wives, but the compulsive gambling will probably jeopardize her mental health!