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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 Erik Childress

"A-List Cast Wasted By Pedestrian Script"
2 stars

After Battlefield Earth came out in May to cataclysmic box office and even worse reviews, Paramount decided to distance John Travolta and their film, Numbers, from its July slot back to a more open October. The title has now been changed to Lucky Numbers, but I can’t imagine many other alterations taking place. For even as it is a vast improvement over Battlefield Earth, Nora Ephron’s latest film ranks in the ninth circle of audience genres known as the bad comedy.

Travolta has dropped the ugly makeup and dreadlocks this time in favor of playing a local television weatherman in Pennsylvania. Russ Richards owns a snowmobile dealership, which proves to be quite the liability in a “heat wave” consisting of weather over the sixty degrees mark. Drowning in debt, he turns to his old buddy, Gig (Tim Roth), a strip club owner who comes up with all kinds of illegal suggestions including fixing the lottery drawing at his station. Not a bad suggestion since Russ is sleeping with Crystal, the Lotto girl (Lisa Kudrow). Neglecting to be the kind of criminal masterminds it would take to pull off such a scheme, Russ & Crystal proceed to plan the most simplistic way possible to rig a lotto drawing, a setup that takes the better part of the first hour. Then, normally where wackiness would ensue, the film just merely ensues.

Even the weakest of comedies can be forgiven greatly if it remembers the only rule it really needs and that is to make us laugh. Sporadic bursts here and there do not qualify. Now, Lucky Numbers bills itself as a dark comedy, dealing with such family values as blackmail, adultery and murder in between the chuckles. But if you’re going to walk the fine line between comedy and suspense, the filmmakers better be prepared to go to the extremes in both genres. Even if one genre bleeds over to dominate the proceedings, just be sure to either really make us laugh or really nervous. Lucky Numbers cannot commit to either.

Travolta is a very dependable actor and is always watchable (yes, even in Battlefield Earth). He does a respectable job trying to maintain himself as everything collapses around him and has one hilarious deer-in-the-headlights scene on the air, (which is probably the film’s highlight). But the script doesn’t give him much in terms of dialogue or characterization, unless you think having a private booth at Denny’s is comic inspiration. Lisa Kudrow gets even more short-changed as the greedy bimbo who goes from dumb to quick to evil for no reason other than its convenient for the plot. Kudrow is a gifted comic actress, shown weekly on TV’s Friends and in a great supporting part in the overlooked The Opposite of Sex, but this material and her character seems too underdeveloped for anyone to overcome.

In fact, the best thing Lucky Numbers has going for it is its colorful cast of character actors. Tim Roth gets laughs in every scene he’s in at the strip club. Michael Rappaport has a couple of funny moments as the appropriately named “Dale the Thug,” whose motivations are linked continually to “emotional problems.” And the underappreciated Bill Pullman (who isn’t even introduced until late in the film) gets the funniest and most original character as the lazy, dim-witted detective who wants to do as little work as possible. It’s a testament to Pullman’s comic abilities that he can dredge up any laughs out of us so late in the proceedings after we’ve gotten used to sitting straight-faced. And how can you not when you watch a film waste the comic talents of Ed O’Neill and Michael Moore with limited material.

Screenwriter Adam Resnick has worked on the high & low of comedy, writing and winning an Emmy for The Larry Sanders Show, yet also writing and directing the Chris Elliott bomb Cabin Boy. Let’s just say he won’t be winning any awards for this script. Nora Ephron seems to work best when dealing with charming, funny actors in relatively straightforward romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle & You’ve Got Mail. When dealing with professedly darker material with screwball potential, she falls completely lifeless, as she did with the suicide hotline workers in Mixed Nuts. The only fresh thing Ephron brings to the table this time is updating her repetitive theme of using songs to punctuate all feelings and emotions from the 50s/60s to the 70s/80s.

Lucky Numbers' biggest problem is that its just too tame. Films like this need a zany high-on-speed kind of pace, much akin to the best of the action genre. Even if the plot is ridiculous, it should at least be a wacky clothesline to let an A-list cast swing their comedic skills from. As it results now, all of them are looking to grasp onto anything funny they can find in this story. Individual moments do garner higher-than-a-decibel laughs, but they are too far and few between for anyone to get a good laugh-on going. And its uneven genre mixing makes it too inconsistent to make us comfortable. Someone should have watched Get Shorty again to show how a crime comedy develops its tone and its story. Resnick & Ephron obviously didn’t and instead of trying to make it work both ways should have gone the full Sturges/Wilder or gone down the Fargo route. Not since The Squeeze with Michael Keaton has a lottery scam film proved to be so unfunny. Sure, it’s better than Battlefield Earth, but it doesn’t take much to accomplish that. Lucky Numbers is just that. Not much.

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originally posted: 10/25/00 16:52:04
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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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