2000, R, 100 min. Directed by Nora Ephron. Starring Lisa Kudrow, John Travolta, Daryl Mitchell, Michael Rapaport, Ed O'Neill, Tim Roth, Bill Pullman, Michael Moore.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 27, 2000
Suddenly Battlefield Earth doesn't look so bad. Compared to Lucky Numbers, an unfortunate teaming of Ephron (who previously directed Travolta in Michael) and writer Adam Resnick (Cabin Boy), Travolta's Scientology experiment gone awry seems downright sublime. Mind you, he's not toting around half the special make-up in this one (unless you count his bizarrely spreading girth -- the actor looks like a linebacker, or maybe Henry Rollins, in a cheap suit here), but still, given the choice between that L. Ron Hubbard opus dei and this tale of a conniving Harrisburg weatherman facing financial ruin, I'll take the six-foot-tall, Snidely Whiplash-esque alien for $200, Alex. Set, for some unknown reason, in 1988, Travolta plays Russ Richards, a “wacky” Pennsylvania weatherman prone to on-air shenanigans and beloved by all. He has his own private booth at Denny's, a swell mansion overlooking lovely Harrisburg, and a sideline running a snowmobile outlet that, as Lucky Numbers opens, is facing some tough times due to an uncooperative and unseasonable winter heatwave. When the bank begins making foreclosure noises, Russ turns to topless-bar owner Gig (Roth) for advice, resulting in a bungled insurance fraud scam that involves high-strung Dale the Thug (Rapaport) and soon spirals into a plan to fix the Pennsylvania state lotto, with a helping hand from bitchy Lotto girl Crystal (Kudrow). As so often happens when these sorts of desperate notions are acted upon, the whole affair goes south fast. Suddenly Russ finds himself battling station owner Dick (O'Neill) for the winning lotto ticket, fleeing from Dale the baseball bat-wielding thug, and attempting to avoid the attentions of Harrisburg's most benign cop, Officer Lakewood (Pullman, acting in a vacuum). During the opening third of Ephron's film I was struck by how much the setup felt like a transplanted Fargo: a small, wintery northern locale; a local businessman driven to desperate measures to stay afloat; a bungled felony; and a group of natives with zany accents. But Lucky Numbers possesses none of the affection for its characters that Fargo did. The caricatures of these Harrisburg folk are drawn in huge, sloppy strokes, and their funny ways aren't so much funny as irritating. Resnick's script, and the resulting film, has a decidedly vicious streak to it as well; there are more catty, barbed rejoinders and gutter epithets here than in Scarface (well, almost). Consequently, when bad things begin to happen to these bad people, you could barely care less. Kudrow, so good in The Opposite of Sex, is playing off her ditzy Friends character for the majority of her screen time -- she's Phoebe's evil twin, a nasty, manipulative bimbo with a genuinely cruel streak. One scene, in which she torments an asthmatic Michael Moore, is genuinely unpleasant. It makes you want to slap her silly and then get the hell out of there before she spits acid on you like the alien queen you know she is. Painfully lame and hamstrung by a viciously unfunny sense of humor, Lucky Numbers is a two-steps backward return to the bad old days of the Travolta lowlights reel. Look Who's Shocking, anyone?