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LUCKY NUMBERS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed OíNeill, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman
Director: Nora Ephron
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Paramount
Features: Trailer, Cast and Crew Interviews, Commentary
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: March 20, 2001

Film ***

Lucky Numbers was both a success and a failure at the same time. I consider it a huge success for the star, John Travolta, whose previous film was the debacle known as Battlefield Earth. Ironically, Lucky Numbers wasnít too lucky at the box office, ranking in even less numbers than Battlefield Earth did. Thankfully, it did garner few more positive reviews, and proved that Mr. Travolta, like any brilliant actor, can bounce back from a movie disaster and deliver his absolute best. Travolta is at his most charming, charismatic best in a film that allows him to go the comic distance and make such an irresistible fool of himself in a character that is memorably goofy, and realistic at the same time. In short, Battlefield Earth deserved to be the mega-flop that it was, but I wished that Lucky Numbers had found its audience, because I consider it to be one of the more superbly witty comedies of recent memory.

The movie is supposedly inspired by actual events that occurred in Harrisburg, PA in 1988. Travolta stars as Russ Richards, a local TV weatherman who is also Harrisburgís biggest celebrity. His face appears on just about every billboard in town, he is the proud owner of a snowmobile dealership, and he also has his own reserved table at Dennyís. But even a celebrity has their flaws, and Russ currently has a big one. Receiving a notice of foreclosure, Russ realizes heís in a huge amount of debt. His boss (Ed OíNeill), refuses to loan him any more money. He then turns to a friend of his named Gig (Tim Roth), who runs a strip club and has numerous criminal ties, for help. The two then plan to stage a phony robbery at the snowmobile dealership. By doing this, Russ will earn back more than what he loses by way of his insurance. When that plan gets seriously botched, Gig comes up with a better plan. He convinces Russ that rigging the state lottery would be a far better and more legit way of getting the quick cash he needs. The lottery winning stand at 6.4 million dollars, which is more than enough to get Russ out of debt. He also happens to be sleeping with Crystal (Lisa Kudrow), who works as the lotto girl for the network, which makes it very easy to convince her to play a part in the scheme.

Of course, a plan is known as a list of things that never happen, and thatís just about what happens in Lucky Numbers. Following the rigging of the lottery, Russ and Crystal realize that they need someone else to cash in the ticket. The first attempt involves the use of Crystalís cousin (Michael Moore) who has asthma. Once that element goes downhill, every possible cohort of the scheme wants their cut. Russís boss, who suspects him and Crystal, wants half the money or will expose the two. An associate of Gigís named Dale the Thug (Michael Rapaport), who frequently has to break fingers for Gig, wants a good share of the dough as well. And Gig himself has already been guaranteed twenty percent of the loot. Russ about now realizes that heíll be right back in debt.

Most of the characters in Lucky Numbers arenít particularly likeable, but the movie remains fun anyway. John Travolta hasnít done many comedies lately, and his turn as loveable goofball Russ Richards is one of his most delightful performances yet. Russ is cocky, charismatic, charming, and self-centered to a degree, but I still found myself rooting for him anyway. Lisa Kudrow is at her usual smarminess as Crystal, the ultimate bimbo who is clearly ruthless, self-centered and nothing more. And although Iíve seen Michael Rapaport play the character he plays in this movie countless times, he still comes off hysterical. Thereís another funny performance in the movie from Bill Pullman as perhaps the most inept cop to ever grace the screen since Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun.

Lucky Numbers was simply a winner for me. The movie is consistently witty and sharp, and filled with genuinely winning comedic performances from itís stars. Fans of Mr. Travolta should not hesitate to check this movie out, as it is winning proof that he has risen from the ashes of Battlefield Earth and returned to superb top form.

Video ***1/2

Paramount turns up yet another impressive video transfer with this release. Anamorphically enhanced, this widescreen presentation is clear and supremely sharp for the most part, give or take a few soft images in a couple of darkly lit scenes, but other than that, the picture is of superb form, with terrific color image and resolution.

Audio *** 

An all around nice job on the audio, for a film thatís mostly made up of dialogue, and occasional music bits from the 80s. Paramount offers up both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as 2.0 Dolby Surround in both English and French. Sound is mostly of clear and crisp order.

Features **1/2

A moderate use of extras from Paramount this time around. Featured on this disc is a commentary by director Nora Ephron, a cast and crew interview segment, and a trailer for the film. This has been the standard form of features use from Paramount, so lets hope it doesnít get any lower than this for future releases.

Summary:

Fans of dark comedies will definitely get a kick out of Lucky Numbers. A movie that is definitely a lighter version of such films as A Simple Plan and Fargo, and with a winning comic tone, which is fueled by Mr. Travoltaís winning performance.

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