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 Lucky Numbers
John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow in Lucky Numbers

Don't Bet on It! Lucky Numbers Movie Review by Spyder Darling

"When they put their heads together, it's a no brainer," claims the ad for Lucky Numbers. And brainless is right. Lucky Numbers, is an unpleasant and unbelievable black comedy, starring John Travolta as Russ Richards, a television weatherman whose dream of becoming a game show host is interrupted by a plan to fix a state lottery in hopes of shoveling out his failing snowmobile business. Lisa "Phoebe" Kudrow co stars as Crystal, the station's ruthless and ravishing Lotto hostess who helps plan the scam along with Gig, the owner of a local strip club, played by Tim "Hoodlum" Roth, in his least irritating part since Gridlock'd.

Surprisingly, the trio's scheme to rig the lottery machine with a selection of special heavier balls that will drop faster into the drawing tube goes off flawlessly. It's soon afterward when their troubles commence that Lucky Numbers starts to run out of gas and class. Crystal's creepy asthmatic cousin Walter (Michael "Roger & Me" Moore) wants more for his part of the plan than agreed upon, so he's left to die, gasping for air while Crystal sings along with a "Happy Days" rerun. Thusly, the feeding frenzy begins. And continues when a rigged Lotto ball is found by the station's Machiavellian manager, Dick, played by the always irascible Ed O'Neill ("Married with Children") in his most cantankerous performance yet. It doesn't take Dick long to see through Crystal and Russ's plan and now he too wants a cut, exactly half of the $6 million jackpot. Soon there are more pieces than pie to be divided and legs start breaking and bodies start flying off of bridges. Pat Lakewood, a ludicrously lazy and dim-witted police lieutenant played by Bill Pullman, almost ruins everything for Russ, when he bumbles upon him trying to leave town via snowmobile. But rather than question the corpulent culprit, Lakewood lets him off with a bill for a broken windshield and a blank traffic ticket that needs to be taped back together.

Despite itself, Lucky Numbers does pack a few good punch lines. Moments like Crystal shrieking "F---, no fried clams!" at the restaurant where she's plotting her next victim's demise. Or Wendy (Maria Bamford), the dumbest waitress in the world, dividing her lottery winnings "Some I'm going to put into savings. And some I'm going to put into checking." And Russ's snowmobile dealership offering "Free Cheese – Just For Stopping By!" They're all funny bits, but too few to redeem the otherwise ugliness of it all.

Extremely loosely based on a real-life scandal to rig the Pennsylvania lottery in 1980, Lucky Numbers could have been a clever Fargo/Simple Plan study in tangled web weaving but turns instead into a thuggish patchwork of unsympathetic characters doing unbelievably stupid things. Neither the capable cast (which also includes Michael Rapaport – Small Time Crooks, Mighty Aphrodite – in an even more oafish and brutal role than usual) or Kudrow's pleasantly padded profile can save Adam Resnick's absurdly convoluted script or director Nora Ephron's dull direction.

Not that you'll care, but Lucky Numbers wraps up neatly with Russ living happily ever after in Florida and the audience happily exiting the theater because it's finally over. Who would think it possible to make a caper movie less interesting or likely than Reindeer Games, but somehow Travolta, Kudrow and company hit the jackpot. Here's hoping they never get that "Lucky" again.

October 2000

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