Lucky Numbers

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Philip Wuntch / The Dallas Morning News

Lucky Numbers almost hits zero.

This miscalculated comedy makes you long for the sustained insanity of the Coen Brothers or the witty irreverence of Billy Wilder. Instead, we have a movie that drips with condescension. You get the uneasy feeling that the creative minds behind Lucky Numbers are a bunch of Beverly Hills snobs who snicker at the mention of Denny's or Red Lobster.

The film's saving grace is Lisa Kudrow, although "grace" is not the first word that comes to mind when describing her character, Crystal Latroy. Venal, hard-hearted Crystal is the "lotto girl" at a Harrisburg, Pa., television station. Ms. Kudrow's sharp comic delivery polishes her isolated clever lines and makes others sound funnier than they are.

The station's superstar is weatherman Russ Richards (John Travolta), who has his own parking place and a reserved table at Denny's and is greeted by fans wherever he goes. Russ relishes his big fish/small pond existence and spends a fortune living up to his perceived image. He also runs a sideline snowmobile business, which is suffering badly during Harrisburg's first snowless winter.

Sweet, vain and dumb Russ and cynical, vain and not-as-smart-as-she-thinks Crystal pull off a lotto scam that backfires, involving them in a web of blackmail and even murder. Such a dark comedy requires the most skillful of presentations, which is beyond director Nora Ephron and screenwriter Adam Resnick.

Ms. Ephron is more at home with the manufactured sugar of Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. As usual, she manages to attract a promising cast without using them advantageously. (Just think back to poor William Hurt. He looked more pained in Ms. Ephron's Michael than he did even in Lost in Space.)

With Lucky Numbers, Mr. Travolta may find himself called Johnny Revolta for the first time since Welcome Back, Kotter. With tightly cropped hair exaggerating his already pronounced facial features, he looks more than ever like a simian Jerry Lewis in dire need of a Dean Martin. Russ Richards begins as a modestly likable jerk, but not likable enough to command 100 minutes of your attention. At least in this film, the smugness that has started to infiltrate Mr. Travolta's persona is played for laughs.

Tim Roth solidly delivers the goods as the pleasantly ruthless owner of a strip joint, while Ed O'Neill, Bill Pullman and Michael Rapaport perform with robotic efficiency.

Michael Moore's performance as Crystal's hapless cousin displays none of the wit of his own Roger & Me.

A couple of individual moments hint at Ms. Ephron's cleverness. After all, it's hard to give up on a mind that once dubbed her own collection of essays Wallflower at the Orgy. But Lucky Numbers represents a giant step backward.