By Pete Vonder Haar | May 7, 2007

A few months have passed since Drew Barrymore’s last romantic comedy, which means…it must be time for another Drew Barrymore romantic comedy. For surely as the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington and Lindsay Lohan will be periodically hospitalized for “exhaustion,” so too will the latest descendant of American’s greatest family of actors inevitably bat her eyelashes through another contrived combination of “meet cute,” seemingly unworkable conflict, and inevitable reconciliation with the latest actor looking to make a quick paycheck.

That honor falls this time around to Eric Bana, which really is something of a shame. “Hulk” and “Troy” didn’t exactly light the world on fire, though it’s hard to blame him for that (and most of the critical acclaim for “Munich” was directed at Spielberg). Anybody’s who’s seen him in “Chopper” knows the guy has it in him to cut loose, but when script after script calls for him to be play it reserved (as Bruce Banner) or stoic (Hector of Troy), this becomes difficult.

Which is one of the reasons “Lucky You” disappoints. The role of Huck Cheever, a career gambler who has a bit of a problem quitting when he’s ahead, would seem to be a perfect showcase for at least one juicy meltdown. Either Bana is unwilling to go the distance, or director Curtis Hanson doesn’t want to press the issue. Curious, because Hanson is a known poker aficionado, and the in-game scenes (of which there are many) are engrossing enough to keep even novices interested. The story, which at first seems like another case of “grown man unable to make peace with his absentee father,” is more nuanced than you might assume. Credit or that goes to Robert Duvall, who plays Huck’s father and two-time World Series of poker winner L.C. as flawed yet sympathetic. L.C. admits to past failing, but doesn’t understand why Huck can’t forgive him.

Had “Lucky You” played strictly as a father-son drama set against the background of competitive Texas Hold ‘Em, it would’ve been a much better movie based on the strength of Hanson’s direction and Duvall’s performance alone. But no, somewhere along the line they had to make this a romance, and that’s the movie’s fatal flaw.

It’s not difficult to believe that the story started just as I described. It was probably even pitched as such, and may even have gotten the greenlight, until some suit at Warner Bros. saw the returns for “50 First Dates” and decided it really needed to be a romantic comedy with Drew Barrymore. Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself and tell me how often Barrymore shows up during the movie’s final act.

I have nothing against Barrymore; she has her niche and has exploited it admirably, but she’s way out of place here. Instead of the pixie-ish ingénue she tries to play the role of Billie Offer – the Bakersfield gal come to make her fortune in…Las Vegas – as a more serious character, and doesn’t exactly pull it off. The end result is a movie that would have been better off eschewing its comedic aspirations in order to tell a serious story, which Hanson and Duvall have more than proven they’re capable of.

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