I could tell right off this was a terrible movie (even the credits are boring), but the real shocker is that it was directed by the guy that made "LA Confidential" -- one of the very best films of the last decade or so -- and features Robert Duvall, one of the best actors of our generation. Yet, as in so many limp forgettable films, the problem is...THE SCRIPT. The story is utterly without merit, and there was no reason to tell it, except that it tries to exploit the recent fascination with big-time poker tournaments.
Unfortunately, poker (which is probably quite interesting and challenging to play) is wretchedly boring to WATCH since winning depends in part on having a BLANK ("poker")face. The only cathartic part is thousands and even millions at are stake, but otherwise, its no more interesting to watch than gin rummy or even your granny's bingo night at church.
Huck (yes short for "Huckleberry") Cheever, a young poker player in Las Vegas with no other job or means of employment. Not a very good player, as he is always broke or losing at the last minute. It becomes painfully obvious that that Huck really is a GAMBLING ADDICT, so addicted that he repeatedly blows money he needs to pay to get into the Big Game, money he owes other people...even money he STEALS from the innocent girl he is dating.
That's not a clever, talented poker player on the rise -- that's a pathetic addict who is about two steps from life in the gutter. We are supposed to think Hank (who is losing stupidly, left & right) is a brilliant world-class player. Hank's dad, L.C. Cheever (Duvall, excellent as always, even in a thankless role) is quite obviously a much better, craftier player.
There is a very slight romance with Billie, a wannabe lounge singer, played by Drew Barrymore. She can be very charming, but here she seems miscast and shrewish as she lays into the messed up Huck about his life. The romantic parts are leaden and devoid of romantic charm or even erotic appeal (there's no nudity or sex) since Bana and Barrymore have zero chemistry together.
Looking back to what I thought the first time I saw Bana in "The Hulk", he is handsome, but really does not have acting talent. He probably rates off the charts with female audience testers, but simply cannot carry a film. I wish there was some way to tell filmmakers that you need MORE than a pretty face or a ripped body to connect with the audience.
The film wraps up with Huck and Pops at The Big Poker tournament, the only exciting aspect of which is that the prize is several million dollars. (I understand there are also cameos by a number of genuine poker champions; I wouldn't know.)Huck throws the game -- and several million bucks -- to his dad. WHY???? There is nothing up to this point to demonstrate that L.C., a two time champ, couldn't deal with losing, or that he needed the money (for an operation or something). In fact, it's Hank who is poor and screwed up, and losing his (furniture-less but posh) home. It's Hank who really needed the win, so he could continue his career as a first rank player.
The whole film would have made more sense if the father threw the game...helping his son for the first time, and moving aside for the next generation (and perhaps if Hank thought he won for real, but then realized his father's "gift"). But that ain't this film. Hank's decision makes no sense, and there is no reason to believe that the father-son relationship is really healed.
Heck, even though the movie ends with Hank and Billie smooching, anyone with half a brain quickly realizes Hank will probably be rifling through Billie's purse by midnight, and screwing around behind her back, and that this is no romance: this is a tragedy for poor naive Billie. And how come nobody remotely suggests that Hank (and some of the other idiot gambling addicts in the film, including a humorous lunkhead who has had BREAST IMPLANTS to try and win a bet) have even thought about getting help for their tragic, destructive behavior.
So aside from being about as exciting as a hygiene class filmstrip, the movie doesn't make much sense and offers appallingly bad advice (keep gambling, keep taking money from innocent people, do anything to win, etc.).
It's a loser, that much is for sure. In conclusion: presumably nobody saw it at the box office, so no $$ loss there, but this is not even worth a rental and for god's sake, do not purchase it, even on clearance (where it is destined to end up)...not even your most poker-lovin' pals will tolerate it.
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