From the auteur who assaulted us with Sleepless in Seattle comes a more punishing film—this time set in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1988. Unlike Nora Ephron’s previous cloying paeans to cutesy coupledom, Lucky Numbers smugly announces itself as a dark comedy. John Travolta plays, with woeful hamminess, Russ Richards, an unctuous snowmobile dealer/television weatherman/local celebrity who needs cash fast. Russ teams up with potty-mouthed, gold-digging Lotto Lady Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow, devoid of her usual pluckiness) to rig a $6.4 million lottery drawing. A crew of lumbering minor characters—including Ed O’Neill as an extorting station manager and Crystal’s part-time fuck buddy, Tim Roth as a gnomic strip-joint owner, and Michael Rapaport as a commemorative-bat-wielding thug—does little more than add plot complications.
Writer Adam Resnick—a former scribe for Chris Elliott’s TV show Get a Life—fancies his references to no-brow television a meta-narrative device, delivering the ersatz Network message that TV makes you stupid. (Russ dreams of being represented by the same agent as Gene Rayburn of Match Game.) Yet something is terribly amiss when a Circus of the Stars clip of Carol Channing training a monkey comes as quasi-cinematic relief from the puny big-screen performances of Vinnie Barbarino, Phoebe Buffay, and Al Bundy. By film’s end, Russ flees Harrisburg for Florida, driving past the ominous cooling towers of Three Mile Island—reminding us of Lucky Numbers‘ own toxicity.