Lucky Numbers

on October 27, 2000 by Michael Tunison
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   While it certainly doesn't hit the humor jackpot, the tongue-in-cheek caper comedy "Lucky Numbers" has enough talented stars chewing on quirky character parts to keep things fairly amusing over the long haul. Unlike the story's dimwitted lottery scammers, director Nora Ephron and her cast are sharp pros capable of getting somewhere even when a venture isn't the most brilliant ever conceived.

   Inspired by the real-life rigging of the Pennsylvania State Lottery in 1980, the by-the-numbers storyline starts with the declining fortunes of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania TV weatherman Russ Richards (John Travolta) after an unseasonably warm winter stagnates sales at his snowmobile dealership. A status-craving local celebrity with his own private booth at Denny's, Russ is so desperate for cash that he reluctantly agrees to a scheme to rip off the televised state lotto drawing with the aid of the station's spiky lotto girl (Lisa Kudrow) and a crooked strip club owner ("Pulp Fiction's" Tim Roth). Not surprisingly, things quickly begin unraveling in the manner of ball-of-string crime movies.

   With her solid handle on idiosyncratic humor, Ephron ("You've Got Mail") gets decent mileage out of the so-so script by Adam Resnick (TV's "The Larry Sanders" show). The plot and dialogue are routine, but the actors seem to be having such a good time that it's hard not to laugh along with them at least some of the time. Playing the comedy broader than he usually does, Travolta demonstrates the all-purpose charisma that makes even his less effective films watchable. As in Ephron's previous "Hanging Up," much of the best material goes to the offbeat comic weapon Kudrow. The exaggerated pantomime she does during the on-camera lotto drawings is funnier than anything in the screenplay, suggesting that signing her to the project was the luckiest thing that happened to "Lucky Numbers." Starring John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rapaport and Bill Pullman. Directed by Nora Ephron. Written by Adam Resnick. Produced by Andrew Lazar, Jonathan D. Krane, Sean Daniel and Nora Ephron. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and brief violence. Running time: 105 min

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