Lucky Numbers

"There's enough mist in here to save 10 masturbators!"

Nora Ephron’s Lucky Numbers is a movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too. When it finds out that it can’t, it winds up dropping the cake and angrily stomping on it so nobody can eat it. It’s a dark comedy, but not quite; it’s a character drama, but not really. But here’s one thing that Lucky Numbers is for sure: a mess.

TV weatherman Russ Richards is a celebrity in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has his own table at Denny’s; his face beams down at the city’s inhabitants from every billboard; he is constantly accosted by fans who want either an autograph or a job. So why is this man, basking in the light of incredible popularity, getting foreclosure notices?

Simple: the weather. You see, Russ owns a snowmobile dealership which is going under because, gosh darn it, there just hasn’t been any snow lately! As a result, the extravagances in Richards’ life are finally starting to get to his pocketbook. He needs money and he needs it fast, and since his boss (Ed O’Neill) refuses to give him an advance on his allowance, he is forced to turn to illicit methods of fattening up his bank account.

With the help of his strip-club owner friend (Tim Roth), Russ hatches a ploy to scam his insurance company by faking a snowmobile robbery. Thanks to an unassuming, faithful employee, it fails miserably and Russ is forced to turn to Plan B: rigging the lottery. He enlists the tv station lottery girl (Lisa Kudrow) and they win the jackpot by filling specific lottery balls with paint. But soon, people find out about their crime and everyone seems to want a cut.

I’m not sure why John Travolta was interested in this dwarf of a project. Perhaps coming off Battlefield Earth he wanted to make something that he didn’t have to dress like a 9-foot tall Jamaican guy in. Other than that, there is nothing remotely extraordinary about this role. The character has exactly three emotions: mischievous, arrogant and confused. There’s no such thing as a bad John Travolta performance, but this is as insipid a character as he has played in a long time (excluding, of course, the one in the aforementioned science fiction debacle)

Lucky Numbers can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark, mean-spirited comedy or an ironic drama, so it strikes an uncomfortable balance between the two. It desperately searches for a tone and never finds the right one. There aren’t nearly as many laughs as a talented writer could milk from this concept but the script doesn’t take its situations seriously enough to work as a character study. The film is a stalemate, with neither side taking advantage of the plot.

The best thing about this movie is Lisa Kudrow, who makes a hilarious, if unrealistic vixen. She’s one of the few mainstream actresses around willing to delve into full-fledged physical comedy and she is very good at it. Ed O’Neill, who has been banished to thankless supporting roles since his tv series Married… with Children ended its run, is entertaining as the two-faced tv executive.

Lucky Numbers has a few good scenes and enjoyable performances but is also saddled with a script that seems to be permanently stuck at a fork in the road. This is a welcome change of tone for director Nora Ephron, who has previously specialized in fluff like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail and its failure can not be blamed on her. It just needed a rewrite. Or two.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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