Movie Review: Lucky Numbers

By Heather Clisby
Movie Magazine International
Directed by Nora Ephron, "Lucky Numbers" stars John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow as two desperate people who rig the Pennsylvania Lottery to win the jackpot. Written by Alan Resnick, the film is so pointless that it barely deserves a rant; the filmmakers' wobbly efforts were so lame and listless that there’s really no fire to get my blood boiling. I can’t even chase my disappointment with a healthy shot of venom.

Travolta is Russ Richards, a TV weatherman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who lives the high life as a much-loved local celebrity, complete with his own reserved table at Denny’s. Russ also owns a snowmobile store which is pulling him under financially due to a stubborn un-seasonal heat wave. He pleads to his boss, Dick, played by Ed O’Neill, for a loan but gets only a lecture in money management.

Kudrow is Crystal, the lotto ball girl at the same TV station. She’s sleeping with Dick, a married man, but fools around with Russ, just for "a treat." When Russ’s pal, Gig, a strip club owner, played with aplomb by Tim Roth, suggests dabbling in foul play to solve his money troubles, the lotto balls get rolling and Russ and Crystal become one daft team. Naturally, things don’t exactly go off as planned.

This is all fine and good for a plot except that it’s supposed to be funny and the writing stinks. The jokes are flimsy and go nowhere, the flow of the film is fragmented and gives off an overwhelming feeling of half-assedness, none of which can be attributed to the actors; this is definitely a behind-the-scenes problem.

For example, about ¾ of the way into the film, a supposedly big, new character is introduced, Lt. Lakewood, a lazy cop who’s recently back on the job after successfully faking an injury. Played by Bill Pullman (a misleading casting choice qualifying significance), the character was clearly an afterthought and annoying at best, as if they nearly forgot to put him on the bus for the big game. Lakewood’s disgusted partner, Chambers, played by the talented and badly under-used Daryl Mitchell, was frustrated and impatient . . . quite naturally so.

Another example of this, was the brief and mysterious appearance of famed documentarian Michael Moore as Walter, Crystal’s perverted asthmatic cousin, who’s around for a few scenes in the middle of the film and then he’s gone. This would all be fine if Ephron were Woody Allen or Robert Altman but she’s overestimating herself and so is everyone else around her. This woman repeatedly churns out crap, crème-filled and slathered in Velveeta, and sells it as gourmet-from-scratch. "You’ve Got Mail" written and directed by America Online, Starbuck’s and Ms. Ephron is The Phoniest Hit Film Of All Time and a sham of epic proportions but at least it was satisfying in its heinousness. As my friend Pete says, "Bad movies never disappoint."

Now here’s the rub, I really enjoyed hating that film, still do. I joyfully roll around in my disgust for "You’ve Got Mail" like a pig in the mud, happily embracing the rich muck. "Lucky Numbers" can’t even give me that, it’s just vacuous and stupid, lame and stark. Sure, there were funny moments but none of the dots connected and this was based on a true story! How hard can it be?

Travolta was working his tail off, you can tell he’s concentrating hard on cultivating his comedic talents; for Kudrow, however, this is effortless, she needs no work. Michael Rappaport, as Dale the Thug, was especially pleasing, always bringing hilarious vulnerability to any criminal.

The workable moments of the film come late at night, when Russ is alone with himself. Going over taped interviews with his idol, Bob Eubanks, Russ contemplates his dream: Game Show Host. The wolves and collections agencies are barking at his door and his memorization of Eubanks pearls of wisdom, such as " . . I meet lots of guys who would make good game show hosts but I never tell ‘em . . . " and "let the format of the show work for you . . ." provide a deeper insight to what makes Russ tick. He doesn’t have the stomach for crime but only covets fame at the lower levels. At least Russ knows his limits, unlike Ms. Ephron.
More Information:
Lucky Numbers
USA - 2000