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IN SHORT: Very funny (verging on the let's kick him when he's down type of) humor for us grownups. [Rated R for language, sexuality, some drug use and brief violence. 105 minutes]
Truth is, we walked in to the sneak of Lucky Numbers expecting a real stinker. We knew the story -- man rigs Lotto. We knew that the television ad did its best to point your attention in a different direction and we made the assumption that it did so because the story (was) so reprehensible that anyone who paid cash would feel ripped off. We were wrong on all counts. Flat out, completely, intrinsically wrong.
Not about the story being based on something illegal, mind you. Totally wrong about not enjoying the thing. We knew that both John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow could do comedy. We didn't count on a supercharged chemistry between the pair, fed by a great script by Adam Resnick. We should be righteously Cranky that the lead gets away with the crime -- like Travolta is going to go to jail, d'uh -- but it's hard to do when all the supporting characters are petty and shallow and put our hero (for lack of a better word) in situations where the only good way out makes everything so much worse than it already was. Welcome to one of those awful off the track lives where nothing else could go wrong, and then does so again and again and again . . .
Russ Richards (Travolta) has got it all. A big house, a Jaguar sportscar that works, a reserved parking space and table at his local Denny's. It isn't just having the initials of a superhero that helps, nope, it's Russ' glamorous job tending the weather map bluescreen for Channel Six WTPA's News At Five that does it. Russ Richards has got the proverbial world on a string. Russ Richards thinks big. He's been in talks with the most major agent around -- the guy handles the great Gene Rayburn (!) -- and is looking up the ladder towards an onscreen gameshow shooting up in Atlantic City.
The only problem is the imminent arrival of Christmas. Harrisburg is lolling under sixty degree temperatures. Swimming pools are being refilled. The people are happy and everyone, except the bank that financed his snowmobile dealership, loves Russ Richards. The bank wants money and Richards doesn't have it. So, what's an honest, law-abiding man to do? He walks the wild side, of course. Russ is dim, but gold hearted, so the details are planted in his brain by lowlife friend Gig (Tim Roth), who runs the local pre-lapdance strip club. Gig arranges for the menacing Dale the Thug (Michael Rapaport) to get some insurance coverage, um, invoked.
It goes wrong, of course, and the dimmer than a dead lightbulb Dale (who is very handy with a baseball bat) starts making demands so as to ensure the efficiency of his jaw muscles to stay locked tight. Gig's only other idea involves rigging the lottery game, which isn't as hard as it sounds as dim and greedy lottery ball girl Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow) is sharing Russ' bed. Crystal's cousin Walter (Michael Moore), who will help buy and redeem the "winning" ticket, is both dim and medically unstable. On the other side of the "I'm greedier than you" medallion is station manager Dick Simmons (Ed O'Neill) who's dim and vindictive and sleeping with Crystal when she's not in bed with Russ (or any of a huge group of potentially wealthy lowlifes that Crystal sleeps with. Crystal, you see, doesn't keep all her eggs in one basket). And while the rigging goes well on Russ' side, Gig has made a few calls which annoy the wrong kind of people.
Which brings Lt. Pat Lakewood (Bill Pullman), a cop trying to make due on disability payments that he doesn't deserve, into the mix. Pat isn't necessarily crooked. He is just flat out lazy, as opposed to his gung ho partner Chambers (Daryl "used to be Chill but not no more" Mitchell). By the time these characters get into the mix, Lucky Numbers has almost moved into the realm of pseudo-slapstick. You may have seen a run of bad luck sink one character, but an entire cast?
and, as for that cast. There's not an un-funny performance in the bunch. The comedy is adult (that means language and sex) and outrageously bigger than life. The way it is supposed to be. Kudrow does dim bulb comedy every week. Travolta hasn't done it that way since the days of Vinnie Barbarino. A couple more pairing of Travolta and Kudrow and we may be invoking the legendary Lemmon/Matthau comedy coupling. It works that well.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Lucky Numbers, he would have paid...
Lucky Numbers is irresistibly funny.
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