Lucky Numbers (2000)
Directed by Nora Ephron
Cast: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rapaport, Daryl Mitchell, Bill Pullman, Richard Schiff, Michael Moore, Sam McMurray, Michael Weston.
2000 105 minutes
Rated: (for language, sexuality, some drug use and brief violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, DVD released March 20, 2001.
Nora Ephron's "Lucky Numbers" came and went in theaters in the fall of 2000, and it's easy to understand why. Excising her usual romantic plotline, Ephron (1993's "Sleepless in Seattle") and screenwriter Adam Resnick have made a pitch-black, meanspirited comedy that is too infrequently funny, and more uneven than it should have been.
Set in 1988 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, television weatherman Russ Richards (John Travolta) is having a terrible winter, thanks to the unusually balmy temperatures that have led his snowmobile business threatening to foreclose. When his strip-club-owning friend, Gig (Tim Roth), suggests he rig their news station's lottery, with the help of the conniving lotto ball girl, Crystal (Lisa Kudrow), the scheme is set into motion--with disastrous results.
While certain elements of the picture do intermittently sparkle, including two delightfully humorous supporting performances from documentarian Michael Moore (as Crystal's asthmatic, masturbating cousin) and Maria Bamford (as a ditzy Denny's waitress), and a fun '80s soundtrack, the film is emotionally cold and extremely cruel-hearted. Our two protagonists, played by John Travolta (2000's "Battlefield Earth") and Lisa Kudrow (2000's "Hanging Up"), are both despicable human beings who deserve far worse than they are ever afforded throughout, and so we lose interest in their plight.
In the right hands, "Lucky Numbers" could have been the next "Fargo," or a funnier "A Simple Plan," but Ephron and Resnick botch the results with little to laugh about, and even less to be left in suspense with. It proves to be a detached experience that, like Russ and Crystal, isn't much fun at all.
How Does It Look? Presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, the picture quality on the "Lucky Numbers" disc is very well orchestrated, if not perfect. While the picture is consistently bright and the colors accurately rendered, there was a little bit more grain than I expected from a big-budget 2000 movie from Paramount Pictures. Blacks levels are good, but often pose a grain problem during the nighttime shots, while the daytime scenes come off beautifully, thanks in part to the lovely Harrisburg scenery. A strong transfer, but misses the mark of being reference quality.
How Does It Sound? With 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, as well as a separate French track, the movie is perfectly clarified from beginning to end, with the notable music gaining quite a bit of mileage out of the surround system.
Special Features? While not labeled a "Special Edition," "Lucky Numbers" offers up a few goodies that bring the DVD's quality up a notch or two. First up is a screen-specific audio commentary track by director Nora Ephron. In some cases, it is far more entertaining than the film itself. Ephron presents herself and her thoughts well, and adds insight into the production. Her validity comes into question, however, when she mentions Lisa Kudrow's role is the best part for a woman she has ever read. Anyone who sees the movie will realize that Kudrow's Crystal is a nasty backstabber, and one-note to boot. Not exactly a quality female role, in my book. Also included on the DVD is an entertaining, if slight, featurette that incorporates scenes from the film with cast and crew interviews. Running just over nine minutes, it is a welcome addition to this release. Finally, there is the theatrical trailer for you to watch, and consider how it didn't look very good as a two-and-a-half-minute advertisement, either.
The Lowdown: The only thing to say about "Lucky Numbers" is that it is an ambitious movie that falls flat. As a stand-alone DVD release, it is not recommended, but for those that enjoy it, there is much to like in the special features that might make it worth a rental, or a buy for the devoted fans of Travolta, Kudrow, or Ephron.
Film: * 1/2 (out of * * * * )
Picture: * * * (out of * * * * )
Sound: * * * 1/2 (out of * * * * )
Features: * * * (out of * * * * )
Overall: * * 1/2 (out of * * * * ) . . . Recommended with reservations
©2000 by Dustin Putman