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Card Shark Bait

Lucky You

Lucky You. Eric Bana, Robert Duvall, and Drew Barrymore star in a film written by Curtis Hanson and Eric Roth and directed by Hanson.

As one of the planet’s more surreal and sinful spots, Las Vegas has a natural lure to filmmakers. But it’s a subject lined with danger, like the city itself, where even strong directors can lose their way. Martin Scorsese scored artfully with Casino, and Mike Figgis painted his masterpiece with Leaving Las Vegas, but Paul Verhoeven failed fabulously with Showgirls, a golden turkey we love to hate.

Wobbling somewhere in a middle zone of its own, Lucky You is a good/bad news story from Vegas by director Curtis Hanson, who brought us the stunning L.A. Confidential. On the one hand, Hanson’s film succumbs to feel-good cliches (in place of Verhoeven’s lurid cheesecake factory) in a tale about father and son gamblers (Robert Duvall and Eric Bana) and a voice-of-reason love interest (Drew Barrymore). On the other hand, it’s all about the poker. No Hollywood film to date has so fetishized Texas Hold-’em, from countless close-ups of cards to the hypnotic sound of the chips and the cold war cunning of poker faces around a table.

Take away the sentimental drive train and the film emerges as a portrait of a compulsive indoor, interior sport, a subculture that has quietly grown in recent years with the help of Internet gambling and cable television. (Many of the players in the film are actually professional players.) It’s best to dismiss the lame script, which might have been banged out in a long Vegas weekend, and the shabby acting. Barrymore still does her best work on TV talk shows and Bana’s cool minimalist style works in a story about poker face-offs, while Duvall steals every scene he’s in.

Fans of the poker channel will have a finer time during their two hours spent in the dark with Lucky You, just as devout Christians would have a very different experience with The Passion of the Christ than would non-believers. But Hanson’s film is also strangely alluring to those of us who thought we were impervious. As Bob Dylan sings his custom-made new tune, “Huck’s Song,” over the end credits-adding a coup de gr•ce of hipness-we realize we’ve been seduced into an alternate universe, an escape route from dull realities. In this world, knowing when to hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em amounts to true and fateful wisdom.

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