Dir: Nora Ephron. US. 2000. 105 mins.
Prod co: Paramount Pictures, Mad Chance, Alphaville. US dist: Paramount. Int'l dist: UIP. Int'l sales (Europe and Africa): StudioCanal. Prods: Andrew Lazar, Jonathan D Krane, Sean Daniel, Nora Ephron. Exec prod: G Mac Brown. Scr: Adam Resnick. DoP: John Lindley. Prod des: Dan Davis. Ed: Barry Malkin. Music: George Fenton. Main cast: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman, Michael Moore.
Lucky Numbers feels like it should to be funnier than it is. The set-up promises a darkish adult comedy about hapless low-lifes and the strong cast seems well suited to the task. When the elements come together though, they incite amusement but not much more. In spite of a big advertising and publicity push, the film fared poorly on its opening weekend in the US, taking $4.6m for seventh place in the chart. The unsavoury characters might get a slightly better reception internationally (where StudioCanal is handling some territories), but the halfway-there feel will still make for a tough sell.
John Travolta has just the right demeanour for ambitious but basically good-natured Pennsylvania TV weatherman Russ Richards, whose dreams of fame and fortune are crumbling as the story begins. To get back on track, Russ reluctantly agrees to go in with his girlfriend (Kudrow) and a shady pal (Roth) on a scheme to fix the state lottery. Travolta plays Russ' gentler side well, but goes over the top for laughs as the lottery scheme starts to unravel. Kudrow, however, is deliciously fickle and Roth, O'Neill (as Russ' TV boss), Rapaport (as a demented small-time henchman) and Moore (as a gormless outsider pulled into the plot) provide enjoyable support.
What are missing, perhaps, are a punchier, edgier script and tauter direction. Ephron (who previously directed Travolta in Michael and is best known for romantic comedies like You've Got Mail and Sleepless In Seattle) captures the warmer moments but doesn't always bring out the darker humour that the story seems to offer.