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Winter, 1988: Harrisburg PA's celebrity weatherman, Russ Richards, is broke: he's borrowed heavily to open a snowmobile dealership, and it's still unseasonably warm. Gig, his seedy pal, advises him to run an insurance scam; when it goes awry, Russ is out another $10,000 and in trouble with Dale, a bat-wielding thug. Gig convinces Russ to rig the state lottery with the help of Crystal, a gold-digging ditz with a heart of tin. They have to find a beard to buy the ticket, and then they have to cash it. Soon, murder and various double-crosses add to Russ's nightmare. A lazy cop zeroes in. Jail is closer than riches. Will Russ have to choose between his money and his life? Written by
Effective performances, worth seeing just to watch Travolta and Kudrow in a great comic team. *** (out of four)
LUCKY NUMBERS / (2000) *** (out of four)
By Blake French:
In order for a black comedy to work, characters and situations need to be of a serious nature, and a story needs to incorporate a sick sense of humor within those variables. "Lucky Numbers" is not very funny. It could have been, but really is not. There are four or five funny sequences contained within the film's running time of almost two hours, and that is not enough to recommend on a comic level. But "Lucky Numbers" does everything else right, and director Nora Ephron captures an amusing sense of humor in her somewhat contentious production. That leads to a hard decision here-not enough laughs but an entertaining style and effective performances. I marginally recommend the movie as long as you do not expect to keel over in laugher while holding your sides in pain.
The year is 1988. The film stars John Travolta as Russ Richards, a celebrity of a weather reporter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As the movie opens, we witness his egotistical attitude fed by hungry fans who surround him at his permanently reserved table at a local diner. He dreams of becoming a big time game show host and has the charisma to get the job, but his agent will not return his calls because, as we later find out, he is dead. Russ also has invested in a snowmobile dealership, but the extraordinarily mild winter has resulted in a lack of sales. Thus he is facing foreclose on his luxury house.
Faced with zero opportunities and limited time, Russ gets ideas of how to get money quick from a sleazy strip club owner named Gig (Tim Roth). His first idea, an insurance scam, is a failure, so they soon turn to bigger possibilities. What better way to make fast cash then winning the lottery? The base lotto girl, Crystal (Lisa Kudrow from TV's "Friends"), whom with Russ and his Station manager, Dick (Ed O'Neill), are both having sex, is easily convinced to help him rig the lottery which will land them both in a jackpot of over six-million bucks.
The heist works and Crystal and Russ have the winning ticket, but more characters become involved. Walter (documentary filmmaker Michael Moore), Crystal's asthmatic cousin, gets second ideas about helping the team with their scheme and wants a larger share of the money; being "the middle man," is hard work, you know. A native bookie named Jerry (Richard Schiff) gets suspicious of Gig's behavior, and ends up at the bottom of a lake, courtesy of Gig's loyal hit man, "the Thug" (Michael Rapaport), who also becomes increasingly greedy. Lazy police Lt. Pat Lakewood (Bill Pullman, the president in "Independence Day"), and his partner (Daryl Mitchell) also develop their suspicions with the lottery schemers, but Russ and Crystal's biggest problem may be Dick, who discovers the illegal scam and blackmails them two for half of the total amount of money. It appears rigging the lottery was not such a keen idea after all?
John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow do a good job of playing their characters straight and serious. There are some violent and morbid events that take place, and the actors effectively incorporate the necessary comic tone to make the material amusing instead of disturbing. They play characters who are active in a plot that, although uneven, flows smoothly and is well written. There are a few too many characters here, and the movie finds itself running out of elbow room near the end, but the story is still entertaining enough to hold out interest for the majority of the time.
Most of the laughs evolve from the characters' reactions to events taking place way out of their control. In one of the movie's funniest scenes, Russ is standing live before the camera when his associates announce on the news that the body of Jerry has been found. His reaction is to die for. Often the dialogue is even funnier. Take a scene where Walter is asked what he plans to do with his share of the money. In one breath he explains his church needs some heating equipment. In the next breath he declares the remainder of the earnings will help him open his own adult book store. During another scene, that owes a little too much of its tone to the inevitable "Pulp Fiction," "The Thug" has a dispute that threatens Russ' life and reputation, but, as he walks away, sees a bottle of mouthwash Russ purchased. The following dialogue follows:
The Thug: Mint Listerine? Russ: Yeah. The Thug: When did they come out with this? Russ: I dont know. The Thug: Is it good? Russ: Yeah, its good.
The characters' moods make this one of the funniest scenes I have seen in a while-even though it may not read that way.
"Lucky Numbers" is not a great comedy, nor it is a completely successful one. It does manage to possess an enjoyable tone, but often loses its focus and wonders off in so many directions, it's hard to keep up. Overall, the film is worth a watch just to see such a biting comic duo by Kudrow and Travolta-all the rest is extra credit.
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