Lucky Numbers

April 5, 2010 - Loosely based on the true story of the 1980 Pennsylvania Lottery-fixing scandal, this 2000 film from director Nora Ephron jumbles up fact and fiction into one big mess. The star power of John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow can't save it.

Travolta plays Russ Richards, the star weatherman at a TV station in Harrisburg. On the side, he runs a snowmobile dealership. Unfortunately, the business and Russ's finances are in the crapper because the Harrisburg area is stuck in the middle of a winter without snow.

What to do? Russ turns to his friend (Tim Roth) who owns a local strip joint. He hits on the idea of rigging the Pick Six lottery. It's convenient for Russ for two reasons. First, the drawings are held at the TV station where he works. And, second, he's sleeping with the girl (Kudrow) who actually draws the winning balls. Bring in her cousin (Michael Moore) to actually buy the ticket and a conspiracy is born.

The rigged drawing goes off without a hitch. But, before Russ and company can claim their winnings, things start to unravel. The conspirators are discovered and, soon, so many people want a piece of the pie that the prize of $6.4 million is not enough to go around.

Overall review: * You don't have to know the real story of the lottery scandal (it happened in Pittsburgh and involved the three-digit Daily Number) to follow the film. What you do need is great patience to sit through a two-hour comedy that really, truly is not funny at all.

Parts of the film were shot on location in and around Harrisburg. At the time, I worked at one of the TV stations in the market and we did a couple stories about the production. When the movie finally came out, some of my co-workers and I went to see it in the theater.

For me, the film – supposedly set in 1980 - lost all credibility within the first minute or two as a sign appeared for a bank that did not come into existence until the late 90s. The filmmakers obviously made efforts, particularly in clothing and cars, to recreate the time period. The bank sign seemed like a detail that should not have escaped notice. After that, I don't recall much about the film other than that I didn't like it very much.

I watched it again recently to see if maybe that one error unfairly colored my judgment of the movie as a whole. Sadly, it did not. The movie did not hold my interest; a couple times, I paused to take a break and contemplated not watching the rest of it. I found that I had no recall of most of the scenes in the movie which, I think it's fair to say, indicates that the individual scenes and the movie as a whole are not very memorable. You would be wise to forget about Lucky Numbers and read up on the real PA Lottery scandal instead.