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Lucky You (2007) -vs- Rounders (1998)

Mark Sanchez, Featured WriterThe Smackdown

Leading a directed life–or just being happy–is hard enough without being complicated by some pesky obsession. Now, throw in a quirky twist  or two and you describe the structure of many dramas that reach the screen. Complications don’t come much quirkier than allowing a deck of cards to define your life. That’s the hand being dealt: Who is the player and who is the fish in the SMACKDOWN! between “Rounders” and “Lucky You.”


The Challenger

{Lucky You} Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) is popular and well-liked in the Las Vegas cardrooms despite a reputation as a “blaster” who can read a table but can’t resist the premature big play. Huck is often broke and forced to hock his dead mother’s ring for enough money to buy into the next game. Huck has… problems… with emotional commitment. He steals money from his new girlfriend Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore who just recently went public with her bi-sexuality), newly arrived from Bakersfield for a singing career. Billie’s sister, Suzanne (Debra Messing) spots trouble a thousand yards off: “..At the table you play it pretty tight.” And then there’s Dad: L.C. Cheever (Robert Duvall),in town for a shot to win the World Series of Poker a third time. L.C. taught Huck everything about poker but not enough about family relations. Huck needs to square matters with Billie and join the table for the big poker shoot out.

The Defending Champion

{Rounders} Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) has similar problems played out in a more hostile setting. He drops his law school money playing a losing hand with a Russian mob guy. Mike can’t stay away from the card games and that alienates his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol). They break up: “..She’d know when to release a hand the minute it couldn’t win.” Matters get worse as Mike tries to re-establish his old poker partner Worm Murphy (Edward Norton), just back from a stretch in jail. Worm can’t play anything straight and Mike’s problems get worse after failing to clear Worm’s debts at the poker table. Mike tries to stay in one piece, both emotionally and physically.

The Scorecard

Both “Rounders” and “Lucky You” cover similar real estate with similar outcomes. In both cases I often felt I was watching a film spoken in foreign language. As a non-player I needed a phrase book to understand “Don’t splash the pot,” “Rolled up Aces over Kings” and “I flopped the nut straight.” All the card lingo provides local color and both films offer solid production values in depicting the hidden emotional landscape of the card game. “Lucky You” even sprinkles the screen with real poker celebrities. However, both movies suffer the same liability: the lead actors are not as strong as the supporting cast. Edward Norton is a riveting presence in “Rounders” and redirects the focus in the scenes he shares with Matt Damon. The same is true of John Malkovich; he has more to work with as the Russian made guy, Teddy KGB. “Lucky You” has Robert Duvall solidly dominating Huck. It makes Eric Bana’s underplayed Huck seem almost inert at times. Both films have pluses and minuses but a winning hand emerges.

The Decision

“Rounders” has the stronger play because the atmospheric elements ring truer. The Las Vegas of “Lucky You” has its share of characters–like Lester with the breast implants and Telephone Jack — but the town itself comes off overly scrubbed, almost decaffeinated. Where are the drunks and hookers? Instead of a taste of reality, Director Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” 8 mile”) serves us unfunny, annoying scenes with Horatio Sanz. Those lapses fog over the few affecting moments Drew Barrymore displays. By contrast, “Rounders” doesn’t portray the poker life as Disneyland with cards. The scary, menacing moments are just that. Finally, you have to wonder how can the hero in “Lucky You” overcome his quirky obsession and get the girl. In “Rounders,” Mike and Jo go their separate ways. Both films have their moments, but “Rounders” holds the winning cards.

About Mark Sanchez 81 Articles
Oregon based media and communications consultant Mark Sanchez is on the fifth or sixth step of his recovery program from his career as a television news reporter. And that’s the way it is. Mark has been an Oregonian since the Reagan administration and shows no signs of leaving. He lives in Portland — a city that is famous for its transit system, its rain, its independent film community and, lately, for the TV series Portlandia, which Mark notes is about half-true, but to protect confidential sources he won’t say which half.

1 Comment on Lucky You (2007) -vs- Rounders (1998)

  1. “Rounders” stuck with me for years, and I just screened it again a month or so ago. Definitely agree it wins this Smackdown. Also, I had a friend in college who was nearly as unreliable as Worm (minus the poker part), and I really loved that characterization.

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