Lucky Numbers

Directed by Nora Ephron
Starring: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman, Michael Moore.
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, some drug use and brief violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
October 29, 2000

Lucky Numbers was supposed to be released on July 14 as Paramount's big summer comedy. Here we are, three and a half months later, and it is finally out. The official party line was that they needed more time for post-production. However, there seems to be a more obvious reason: Battlefield Earth. The John Travolta-led sci-fi megabomb had come out in mid-May to horrible reviews and deadly box office figures after the first weekend. By June, the delay of Lucky Numbers was announced. I don't think it was a coincidence that this was also a Travolta film, and that Paramount wanted to distance themselves from Warner's disaster. So, let's see what we have been waiting for.

Travolta stars as Earth-born weatherman Russ Richards, who has a difficult winter of 1988 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has put all his money into a snowmobile dealership, only to be hit with a massive heat wave, and therefore no snow and no business. While at his reserved table at Denny's, he is served with a foreclosure notice, and is now in serious need of money.

His friend Gig (Tim Roth), who owns a strip club, suggests that he stage a robbery and collect the insurance. This only leads Russ into further debt when the guy hired by Gig to pull off the robbery, Dale the Thug (Michael Rapaport), gets arrested and demands bail and compensation for "pain and suffering". Gig presents Plan B: have Russ' girlfriend, Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow), fix the state lottery, for which she is the number-picker.

Of course, things get more complicated in an attempt to create comedy. Nora Ephron has had much success at making mainstream audiences laugh, but it is usually with her own screenplays. Here, she merely directs a story by television writer Adam Resnick. There are a few good laughs, but mostly due to the brilliant comic instincts of Kudrow. She gets more out her character than the film deserves. Travolta, meanwhile, whines his way through a character that is entirely unlikeable.

I was often surprised at the lack of comic timing that Ephron displayed. Each scene was drawn out so that when the punch came, it evoked a giggle or a smile, but not a laugh. With the absence of a Meg Ryan character to make it cute, the film fails. It's a black comedy made by an optimist, bound to please few people, if any at all.

Will the film's delay help it? We'll see soon, but I doubt it. Too few people saw Battlefield: Earth, but many remember the critical lashing it received. It doesn't matter, anyway. They don't have a good film, and there are too many worthy choices out right now. I'd say there is no good timing for its release -- just get it out as soon as possible, and pray for Blockbuster to buy a heap of copies.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Lucky Numbers (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Lucky Numbers (2000) -- VHS
Lucky Numbers (2000) -- DVD
Lucky Numbers: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan