I truly hope that Hell has saved a special spot for Nora Ephron, not because she is a bad person, but because of the movies she directs. While she had mild success with her two Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan comedies Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, she is also the putz who bore unto the world ‘Mixed Nuts, Michael, My Blue Heaven, the screenplay for ‘Hanging Up’ and now ‘Lucky Numbers’, an unpleasant yuckfest that is practically devoid of any and all laughter.
John Travolta plays Harrisburg, Pennsylvania television weatherman Russ Richards. An all around “golly gee whiz” good guy and local celebrity (yes kids, doing the weather in a town best known for the Three Mile Island disaster makes you royalty), Russ is in a bit of a predicament. It seems that his off camera business, a snow mobile business, is bordering on bankruptcy due to an unseasonably warm winter. Desperate for some quick cash, he conspires with his girlfriend, a goldbrick who happens to be the TV station’s lottery girl, Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow) and the sleazy owner of a local strip club (Tim Roth) to rig the state’s lottery drawing. Comic chaos ensues.
Screenwriter Adam Resnick doesn’t give us one single character to care for. Russ is a smug jerk so full of himself that we pray for his comeuppance to happen as soon as possible. Crystal is such an annoying person that death would be a good start for her (no such luck), and the supporting characters are about as likable and emphatic as Republicans. Add onto this Resnick’s condescending view of life in Harrisburg and a “happy ending” resolution so lame you may begin to feel your spine melting, and you have the foundation for Crap Film-making 101.
Building on that foundation, Nora Ephron steps in to prove yet again that she is one terrible director. She has no sense of pacing, and her constant shifting between dark (and at times, violent) and whimsical comedy is borderline schizophrenic. Once again, her overuse of music only cements the theory that she doesn’t trust her material enough to let it stand on its own.
For Travolta, this marks the second silver bullet lodged into his career this year. Phoning in his performance from the outer rim (where he probably decided to hide out after Earth), Travolta plays Russ in three modes: smug, idiotic and dazed. Now, Travolta can really shine when he finds the right material, but when he gets stuck with clunkers like this film, he really can stink up a movie theater in no time flat.
Kudrow has a genuine comic talent and an appealing screen presence, but not here. Granted, her character is badly written, but Kudrow does little if anything to try to give Crystal another dimension. Instead of being interesting or funny, she just comes off as an annoying.
As for the rest of the cast, Tim Roth is so sedate in this film that one is almost tempted to tap him to see if he is actually awake, while Roger and Me director Michael Moore has a few embarrassing scenes (but he is the lucky one, he keels over from an asthmatic attack early in the film). Ed O’Neill is his usual unfunny, ingratiating self while Bill Pullman tries for slapstick and misfires on such a grand scale that I believe the target he hit was found three screens over. Only Michael Rapaport, as a depressed psychopath (wacky!), comes off with any sort of likability (mostly because he threatens most of the characters with violence. Yes, he’s doing our dirty work for us hence he gets our empathy.).
This is one idiotic, misguided, unpleasant mess of a movie that no one will benefit from. Once this film lands with the thud at the box office, perhaps a law will be passed, banning Nora Ephron from exposing innocent moviegoers to her non-ability to direct a feature-length motion picture. But then again, if they can spend $65 million to make this film (and $70 million to make Battlefield Earth), I wouldn’t count on Hollywood coming to their senses any time soon.