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Movie Review

Lucky Numbers is a black comedy about rotten people doing rotten things to each other, all in the name of greed. The central figure in this mean-spirited freak show is Russ Richards, a self-absorbed TV weatherman with financial woes (unseasonably warm temps in Harrisburg, Pa., have Russ’s local snowmobile dealership seeing red). His buddy Gig runs a strip club and arranges for a neighborhood hit man to rob the place so that Russ can collect on the insurance. But when "Dale the Thug" and his men get caught in the act, Russ’s problems only get worse. Gig hatches another plan: Fix the lottery. With the help of Crystal, the TV Lotto girl whose tumultuous affair with the station manager finds her equally in want of cash, Russ rigs the Powerball game for one big score. Easy money? Not so fast. As individuals learn of the scam, they threaten to blow the whistle unless they get a hefty cut. This leads to deceit, double-crosses and even murder.

positive elements: There is no honor among thieves. Russ discovers that aligning himself with a criminal element can spiral out of control and get downright lethal. Russ’s vanity, egotism and occasional condescension illustrate what can happen to public figures who let a little celebrity go to their heads. Still, he deserves credit for making time for his fans, treating them with respect and taking his community involvement seriously.

spiritual content: The only person who claims any religious connections is Crystal’s cousin Walter, a mildly retarded asthmatic brought into the con to buy the lottery ticket. He states, "I really need the money ‘cause my church needs a new furnace. I’m gonna use the rest to open an adult bookstore." He proceeds to discuss the merits of masturbation and says God endorses self-gratification because it protects people from sin (which ignores the thought life as addressed in Matt. 5:27-30). Unraveling the scam, a bookie says, "Jesus Christ himself can’t rig the state lottery—unless Jesus had a buddy down at the TV station." On the receiving end of a profound statement, Russ asks the source if it came from the Bible (implying that Russ believes Scripture contains wisdom). After Walter’s untimely death, Russ utters, "It’s times like this you wonder if there’s a higher being out there."

sexual content: Immoral and perverse. Walter is obviously a porn addict based on his vehement defense of masturbation, his desire to open an adult bookstore, and the blow-up sex doll Crystal finds in his bathtub. The selfish, promiscuous Crystal has been carrying on an affair with Dick, her married boss. She is also shown in bed, loudly engaging in sex with Russ. Later, she flirts with a cop. A young couple uses the snowmobile dealership as a make-out spot (some fondling occurs before a break-in interrupts them). There’s a comment about sodomy. Several scenes in Gig’s strip club show women in revealing outfits dancing suggestively. Instead of gathering facts about a homicide, Officer Lakewood ogles the girls during his visit to the club.

violent content: A man is brutally beaten (offscreen) and dumped in the river. Another has his legs broken with a baseball bat. A police officer is wounded by gunfire before his partner shoots the assailant at point-blank range. Russ hurls a crowbar through the windshield of a police car. Russ and Crystal contemplate murdering Dick. Urging Gig to put a hit on her boss and lover, Crystal screams, "I want Dick Simmons dead and I want his head cut off so I can hang it from my rearview mirror!" She is also guilty of killing Walter by maliciously refusing to give him his inhaler during an asthma attack (a standoff in which she demands to know where he hid the winning lottery ticket).

crude or profane language: Gig uses crass slang to describe vices. The actors spew about 100 profanities or obscenities including 40 f-words. Really raw, especially for a Nora Ephron film.

drug and alcohol content: Russ makes it plain that he doesn’t drink. Others do, however. Alcohol flows at Gig’s strip club. Hoods polish off their poison before taking baseball bats to a plate-glass window. Just before administering a brutal beating, Dale the Thug alerts his victim, "I’m hopped up on wine coolers and anti-depressants!" With Walter dead, Crystal and Russ discuss who will cash in the winning ticket and rule out an old friend of hers referred to as "a total coke addict."

other negative elements: Greed, greed, greed. And when all is said and done, the biggest winner is Gig who, we learn, invests his ill-gotten gain in Microsoft and makes millions.

conclusion: Despite an infusion of upbeat ’80s pop tunes by Hall & Oates, The J. Geils Band, Blondie, Queen, Joan Jett, Bob Seger and The Cars, this film is generally bleak and unamusing. First of all, there’s no one to root for. These characters serve no purpose other than as examples of how not to behave. Second, scenes designed to elicit laughs are so mean-spirited that one fears for a society that’s supposed to find them funny. Kudrow does little more than a nasty variation on her Phoebe character from TV’s Friends (a show hugely popular with teens) that includes mocking a sick relative as he dies at her feet. Don’t let Nora Ephron’s involvement fool you; there’s nothing the least bit charming or romantic about Lucky Numbers. A bad gamble for families.

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John Travolta as Russ Richards; Lisa Kudrow as Crystal; Tim Roth as Gig; Ed O’Neill as Dick; Michael Rapaport as Dale the Thug; Bill Pullman as Lakewood; Michael Weston as Larry; Michael Moore as Walter; Daryl Mitchell as Chambers


Nora Ephron ( )


Paramount Pictures



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Bob Smithouser

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