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The Baltimore Sun

Lucky Numbers

Friday October 27, 2000

     In the clever and diverting dark comedy "Lucky Numbers," John Travolta's Russ Richards is the king of all he surveys--even if it isn't much of a kingdom. He's an ebullient Harrisburg, Pa., TV weatherman, and his throne is his special booth at a Denny's. He's a world-class schmoozer who plays the local celebrity bit to the hilt, but he has set his sights higher: His dream is to be a game-show host. (Watch, out, Bob Barker.)
     Meanwhile, Russ is facing a major crisis. A chronic spendthrift, he has invested in a snowmobile dealership just when Harrisburg is facing an exceptionally mild winter. He's teetering on the brink of financial ruin when, a couple of deft plot twists later, Russ and the station's Lotto Girl (Lisa Kudrow) figure out a way to rig the state lottery to make them both rich. Naturally, there's a hitch.
     Taking inspiration from a 1980 rigging of the Pennsylvania state lottery's daily number drawing, writer Adam Resnick has come up with a consistently witty and ingenious comedy of broad appeal. Right from the start, Resnick and director Nora Ephron establish Russ as a likably brash, reckless guy who's foolishly gotten himself in a jam so that we hope he can somehow miraculously emerge relatively unscathed while most everyone else emerges as amusingly craven types caught up in a comedy of avarice.
     The filmmakers wisely avoid sentimentality, the better to let the greedy folk stand out all the more sharply. Kudrow's shapely Crystal is a sexy dame conveniently devoid of a conscience engaged in relationships with both Russ and their boss (Ed O'Neill) that are strong in lust and low in emotion.
     There are fine comic parts for some sterling supporting players: Tim Roth's Gig is a strip-joint proprietor and shady schemer who blissfully faces every disaster with yet another dubious scheme that will take care of everything painlessly. Michael Moore, memorable maker and star of the documentary "Roger & Me," plays Crystal's doofus cousin Walter, who declares that, should there actually be a pie to slice, he wants to give half of his portion to his church--and use the other half to open an adult book store.
     Michael Rapaport's Dale is one of the Keystone State's least stable robbers; Bill Pullman is surely Harrisburg's laziest cop, about to drive his conscientious young partner (Daryl Mitchell) crazy. Like most everyone else on hand, Russ' young snowmobile salesman Larry, amusingly played by Michael Weston, has his eye on the main chance.
     Fast-paced and unpretentious, the film effectively reteams Travolta and Ephron, who directed him in the equally pleasing comedy "Michael," in which he played a decidedly earthy angel. While you could wish that Resnick had been able to come up with a pow-in-the-kisser finish, "Lucky Numbers" resolves itself in satisfying fashion with no small amount of ingenuity.

Lucky Numbers, 2000. R, for language, sexuality, some drug use and brief violence. A Paramount Pictures and Studicam presentation of a Jonathan D. Krane production. Director Nora Ephron. Producers Andrew Lazar, Jonathan D. Krane, Sean Daniel, Nora Ephron. Executive producer G. Mac Brown. Screenplay by Adam Resnick. Cinematographer John Lindley. Editor Barry Malkin. Music George Fenton. Costumes Albert Wolsky. Production designer Dan Davis. Art director James F. Truesdale. Set decorator Tracey A. Doyle. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. John Travolta as Russ Richards. Lisa Kudrow as Crystal. Tim Roth as Gig. Ed O'Neill as Dick.

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