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Get Lucky

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2000

   


    'Lucky Numbers' Lisa Kudrow and John Travolta are lotto conspirators in "Lucky Numbers."
(Paramount Pictures)
I'm so glad to see that Nora Ephron, the filmmaker who brought the world "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail" and "Hanging Up" is trying to get this insufferable cuteness out of her system.

"Lucky Numbers" is not cute. At times, it's downright nasty; and that's when I like it best.

Actually, it smacks of its increasingly cloying director hardly at all, and muchissimo of screenwriter Adam Resnick, who apparently honed his ability to get laughs and spit bile at the same time during stints writing for "Late Night With David Letterman," "The Larry Sanders Show" and the weirdly off-kilter Chris Elliott vehicle "Get a Life."

Bless him for creating the scene in which Lisa Kudrow (filmdom's anti-Meg Ryan) kills her fat, asthmatic, compulsive-masturbator cousin by withholding his inhaler. And doubly bless casting director Francine Maisler for hiring bloviating documentarian and agent provocateur Michael Moore in the role of the hapless – and violently unsympathetic – victim.

But I get ahead of myself. In "Lucky Numbers," a dark comedy based on a real-life scandal about a 1980 attempt to fix the Pennsylvania State Lottery, Kudrow plays Crystal Latroy, the delightfully corrupt lotto ball girl (God, I love writing that) for a Harrisburg TV station. How she comes to off her cousin in such an unseemly fashion is by virtue of the fact that she, along with lover Russ Richards (John Travolta), the station's morally and financially bankrupt weatherman, have managed to scam the unscammable, in short to win the jackpot by loading the Ping-Pong balls from which the lottery numbers are drawn. Schlubby cousin Walter (Moore), of course, is the front hired to purchase the ticket with the pre-arranged numbers.

Suddenly, he decides he wants a larger cut of the winnings (he's taking all the risk, after all), so Crystal has to remove him from the equation and, in the film's funniest and sickest scene, she does. From this point on, it's all uphill (or downhill, depending on your taste for curdled humor).

"Russ never did have the stomach for this kind of thing," observes Gig (Tim Roth), a wry and unflappable strip-club owner who came up with the original plan (for a 20 percent "consulting fee") and who seems to keep some psychotic guy named Dale the Thug (the ever-thuglike Michael Rapaport) on retainer.

"Yeah? Well, I do," says Crystal, before dashing off to wreak some other form of havoc in her quest to become a multimillionaire.

It's a good thing someone in this movie has the stomach for it. Although Travolta gets top billing, Kudrow is the film's true manic engine, and her ability to carry off perky amorality propels the preposterous plot forward through numerous twists and setbacks, as more and more people (Richard Schiff as an overly inquisitive bookie, Ed O'Neill as a venal station manager and Bill Pullman as an inept cop) keep popping up to bollix up the works. Her co-star, looking bloated and inert, appears to have settled into the role of the fall guy rather than even attempt to be an active participant.

Ephron doesn't look as if she has her heart in the job either. Yes, the film is dark (literally as well as figuratively, since certain scenes are almost murky), but the director doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that the material is as cantankerous as it is. Time and time again, she keeps pulling back from the abyss just when Resnick's story lets us know that it's ready to abandon all social decency and hurl itself over the edge.

"Lucky Numbers" (R, 108 minutes) – Contains obscenity, brief drug use, murder and one non-explicit sex scene.

 

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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