Warner Bros. sat on this Vegas-based snoozefest for a year and a half before finally dumping it into theaters as counter-programming against the juggernaut that is Spider-Man 3. That strategy might make sense if Lucky You were the Eric Bana/Drew Barrymore romance the studio is selling. (The Devil Wears Prada, which appealed to a huge female audience, did blockbuster business opposite Superman Returns last year.) But this is a guy movie, a straightforward, low-key drama about the relationship between estranged father-and-son poker players. Huck Cheever (Bana) is brash and reckless; daddy L.C. (Robert Duvall) is the kind of ornery cuss who makes a great poker player but a lousy father. Billie (Barrymore) is the girlfriend who offers Huck the kind of stability he’s incapable of embracing. And that’s about all there is to it, despite the promise of a father-son showdown at the World Series of Poker. Huck wins big and loses bigger; Billie dumps him until he wins her over (and over) again. It may be impossible for Duvall to give a completely bad performance, but Bana and Barrymore lose their struggle with dialog dominated by increasingly cheesy poker platitudes, and the film lacks real insight into the game.
The old razzle-dazzle is back with the release of Ocean’s Thirteen, a third outing in the star-anchored caper franchise. It returns to the neon glow and slot-machine jangle of Las Vegas, where aptly named entrepreneur Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is bilking his erstwhile partners out of their fair share in his new hotel/casino venture, and Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and crew are scheming to take Bank down. To call the ensuing plotline “highly improbable” would be paying it an enormous compliment. It’s ludicrous, contrived, and borderline crazy. Of course, that’s almost completely irrelevant with this cast. Clooney’s great talent is putting on an air of seriousness that suggests he doesn’t know how good he looks doing it. Matt Damon selflessly casts aside movie-star ego and spends most of his screen time wearing a gigantic fake schnozz to gentle comic effect. Brad Pitt remains completely and spectacularly chilled out for the duration. Best of all, director Steven Soderbergh’s camera takes it all in with jazzy, unburdened élan, zipping easily from character to character. Don’t expect an engaging or absorbing heist yarn. But of the summer sequels released so far, it’s easily the least complicated and most entertaining—and probably the smartest.
Actor-turned-auteur Peter Berg hits the big screen with perhaps the year’s most jaundiced take on human nature. Very Bad Things is billed as a black comedy, but you may notice that it’s not very funny. Sporadically intriguing and entertaining, yes, but not very funny at all.
In Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage plays Benjamin, an alcoholic who’s lost his family and his job and moves to Las Vegas to quite deliberately drink himself to death over the course of four weeks’ time. While he’s there, he meets a hooker named Sera, played by Elisabeth Shue, who’s cast adrift, so to speak, when her boyfriend and pimp (Julian Sands) is finally murdered by the thugs he owes money to. Since these two are just about the neediest people on the planet, they immediately fall into a codependent relationship. Ben agrees to vacate his room at the $29-a-night Whole Year Inn (in an unusual moment of lucidity, Ben reads the sign as “the hole you’re in”) and move in with Sera on one condition — she can never ask him to stop drinking.