Rated R - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 10/27/00

John Travolta, who in recent years has leaped back from obscurity and launched himself firmly into the megastar category, is suffering from a slump. His most recent film, Battlefield Earth, was atrocious, and his performance in The General's Daughter wasn't much better. In Lucky Numbers, a black comedy written by Adam Resnick and directed by Nora Ephron, who worked with him before in Michael, Travolta plays a popular, common-sense challenged weatherman and snowmobile dealer who attempts to overcome his financial difficulties by rigging his TV station's lottery drawing. Although the film has its moments, and his co-star Lisa Kudrow does some of her best work in years, I wouldn't say Travolta exactly strikes it rich.

Lucky Numbers is presented as a flashback to the winter of 1988. Russ Richards (Travolta), who narrates at the beginning and end, is the meteorologist for WTPA-TV in Harrisburg, Pa. Calling himself the luckiest man alive, Russ brags that he is so famous he has his own table at "the trendiest bistro in town" (Denny's). He drives a sporty red convertible, gives to charity, and is loved by everyone, especially the women. But we soon learn that Russ is not exactly the humanitarian and all-around nice guy he seems. His smile is plastered all over town on billboards, but he desperately wants to blow this burg and move to Hollywood where he can be a game show host. This desire is compounded by the fact that the area has enjoyed the longest period of fair weather on record, rendering him almost useless on the show and seriously cutting into his snowmobile sales.

When Russ is issued a foreclosure notice, he talks to his friend Gig (Tim Roth), a night club owner with some shady connections, and Gig suggests that he pull a scam on the state lottery, which is currently up to over $6 million. Lotto-ball girl Crystal Latroy (Kudrow), a spoiled, shallow golddigger who is currently sleeping not only with Russ but with their boss (Ed O'Neill), is happy to oblige, even offering her mousy, asthmatic cousin Walter (Michael Moore) to buy the ticket and collect the money. Although things go well at first, they begin to unravel when Walter has second thoughts. As the situation snowballs to the point where murders are committed and an investigation begins, Russ's reaction to each new development becomes more desperate.

For a comedy, this film is remarkably unfunny. The most humorous lines in Resnick's script were included in the trailer, so there's nothing new to inspire much of a chuckle. Travolta's performance is adequate, but he is often upstaged by Kudrow, who at first appears to be simply playing another dumb blonde character, but soon shows a bit more depth. Likewise, Roth is enjoyable as the unflappable Gig, whose answer to every unfortunate turn of events is another hired hit. Bill Pullman also plays an atypical character as a cop who doesn't really want to do his job. But overall, Lucky Numbers's story seems forced and its characters lack human qualities, seeming more like cartoons than real people. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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