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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.23%
Worth A Look: 12.9%
Pretty Bad: 24.19%
Total Crap: 27.42%

7 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Lucky Numbers
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by Scott Weinberg

"The colorful cast saves Travolta's hide this time around."
3 stars

Considering that this movie had been delayed by over four months and also underwent a title change (from 'Numbers'), I was expecting a considerably worse film, but Lucky Numbers stunned me by actually being a pretty entertaining, if somewhat schizophrenic, comedy. While this movie is by no means a rousing success, Lucky Numbers is proof positive that a solid cast can salvage a sloppy screenplay, at least most of the way.

With the recent track record of John Travolta (Battlefield Earth, The General's Daughter and Mad City, for example), you wouldn't be blamed if you didn't expect much from Lucky Numbers. I sure as heck didn't. Perhaps it was that very lack of expectation that helped me to enjoy it a lot more than I expected to.

Lucky Numbers offers us John Travolta as Harrisburg weatherman Russ Richards, a pompous yet popular guy who is also having some severe financial difficulties. Russ owns a snowmobile dealership on the side, but can't sell a one due to the surprising lack of snow. (The irony of having a weatherman's fate rely so strongly on the weather is one of the more clever gags in the movie.) After an amateurishly planned insurance scam goes awry, Russ teams up with his ex-con buddy Gig (a hilarious Tim Roth) and the ruthless Lotto-Ball girl, Crystal (Lisa Kudrow, once again proving that she's got the chops for the whole 'movie career' thing), and the three set off to set a simple lottery heist.

To say that the lottery scheme goes awry is a true example of an understatement. What was meant to be a simple 'surgical procedure' soon balloons into a manic farce, as Russ frantically scrambles to keep his hands clean and his face honest. Station manager Dick Simmons (the always welcome Ed O'Neill of Married with Children) catches wind of the scam, and wants a piece of the pie. Crystal involves her weird (and asthmatic) cousin Walter (Michael Moore, in a strange role), but that only serves to foul things up even further. As some added muscle, Gig enlists the help of 'Dale the Thug', who is played with a mellow yet amusing menace by Michael Rapaport. After a few bodies turn up, the case is assigned to Detective Lakewood (Independence Day's Bill Pullman, who almost steals the movie whole), who may indeed be the laziest policeman ever born.

If Lucky Numbers is a success at all, it is thanks entirely to this great ensemble cast of familiar faces. Tim Roth fares the best with his smart and sarcastic performance as Gig, and Lisa Kudrow proves once again that she knows her way around a comedy. Her role here is unlike anything she's done before, and while seeing Lisa Kudrow play a back-stabbing witch may seem off-putting at first, by the end of the movie you'll like her character, even though you probably shouldn't.

As for Travolta himself, he gives one of his best performances in years. That's mainly due to the fact that he doesn't have to hold this movie up all by himself. In movies like Michael or Phenomenon, how much you enjoy the film pretty much depends on how big of a Travolta fan you are. (I hated both of those. You do the math.) As I've quickly grown weary of his 'smirk, mug for the camera & swagger' style of performing, I was happily surprised to see Travolta in action this time. It's nice to see such a stuffy actor cut loose, and Travolta even seems to be having some fun with his role.

Injecting a lot of life into the proceedings are reliable character actors Michael Rapoport, Ed O'Neill and Bill Pullman. While their characters are merely side players, each actor instills some real personality into what could have been bland, cut-out roles. Occasionally an actor will be presented with an underwritten role, and it's up to them to flesh the character out. These three (Pullman, especially) do just that.

On the down side, director Nora Ephron is simply out of her element. Her previous films (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Michael) range from great to awful, but dark comedy that involves violence and an occasional death is not her strong suit. As she attempted earlier in her career with the awful Mixed Nuts, she's considerably better suited to comedies with a light touch. Additionally, she's framed Lucky Numbers with a grey hue, everything cloudy and drab. (I've been to Harrisburg. It's not that ugly.)

For a crime caper like this, perhaps a little more color would have helped. A comedy like this needs a Michael (Fletch) Ritchie or a Frank (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) Oz in order to keep the action moving. As in this year's Nurse Betty, this movie offers a rather uneven mix between 'lighthearted farce' and 'violent black comedy', and a director more familiar with such a terrain would have been noticably more successful.

While Lucky Numbers may not be a gag-a-minute kind of comedy, it's still an enjoyable comedy, if only for the antics of the crazed characters. There are indeed a handful of truly funny sequences (watch for the great "truck gag" near the end), but the fun of the movie lies in just seeing how horribly the lottery scam can snowball.

Adam Resnick's script veers from silly pratfalls to nasty violence without batting an eye, and this may leave a sour taste in the mouth of many a moviegoer. In a character-driven story, the writer has to make sure we don't hate every single person in the movie. Again, it's the cast of talented performers that saves Lucky Numbers from crapping out completely.

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originally posted: 10/28/00 16:52:36
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User Comments

11/01/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 4 stars
2/08/05 Jeff Anderson Much like the Michael Keaton stinker THE SQUEEZE, only much worse! PITIFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
7/24/04 Sandy Turynowicz ok 4 stars
1/13/04 jack russell John Travolta should try roles like this more often 5 stars
4/08/03 Shadaan Felfeli Kudrow was at very least worth watching 3 stars
3/20/03 Jack Sommersby Problematic yet admittedly a fairly good time to be had. 3 stars
2/03/03 mo this movie is very good. 4 stars
8/30/02 The Talking Elbow This movie was really funny, laughed all the way through it, dont see why everyone hated it 5 stars
4/02/02 Monday Morning I had no preconceived expectations for this flick and really liked it. Very funny. 4 stars
1/16/02 David A. It's funny, but not really classic. Walter was my favorite character 4 stars
10/15/01 Andrew Carden I Liked This Movie Because Of The Funny Chemistry Between The Two. 4 stars
8/10/01 Mr. Hat I expected SO much better from this movie. 2 stars
3/21/01 Zero Effect? Sorta entertaining - Travolta is likable & wacky, Kudrow's a sexy bitch, & Pullman is ODD 4 stars
12/08/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble I've enjoyed gay monkey porno more than this film 1 stars
11/27/00 HeLD almost as bad as Battlefield Earth.... 1 stars
11/26/00 Stuntman shoulda been called Unlucky Numbers. How dissapointing. 2 stars
11/08/00 RL Hey, its better than Battlefield Earth.....or is it? 2 stars
11/04/00 Dan Lisa Kudrow's the only thing likeable in this unoriginal trash 1 stars
10/31/00 michael great John and prety good movie! 4 stars
10/30/00 poetchuck Don't even see it at the dollar movie--No laughs 1 stars
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  08-Feb-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Nora Ephron

Written by
  Adam Resnick

  John Travolta
  Michael Rapaport
  Ed O'Neill
  Bill Pullman
  Tim Roth
  Lisa Kudrow

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