In 1988 Russ Richards (John Travolta), the weatherman for a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania television station, is revered as a local celebrity by his viewers, and fame affords him such perks as a reserved parking spot and his own booth at Denny's, where an omelet bears his name. His eternally optimistic demeanor conceals the fact his snowmobile dealership is on the verge of bankruptcy due to an unusually warm winter.
His friend Gig (Tim Roth), a shady strip club owner, suggests an insurance scam will free Russ of his financial problems, but when the scheme fails to pay off, Russ finds himself even deeper in debt and the target of a hitman named Dale (Michael Rapaport). Gig then proposes Russ rig the Pennsylvania Lottery with the help of his amoral girlfriend Crystal Latroy (Lisa Kudrow), a ditzy model who pulls and announces the winning numbers on television, and her oddball cousin Walter (Michael Moore), who will pose as the owner of the lucky ticket.
Their plan works, but before the $6.4 million jackpot can be claimed, everything begins to unravel. First, Walter gets greedy, refuses to hand the winning ticket over to his cousin and Crystal's physical confrontation triggers Walter's ultimately fatal asthma attack. Sleazy station manager Dick Simmons (Ed O'Neill), who also is sleeping with Crystal, tries to blackmail her and Russ when he discovers what they have done, and others who have uncovered what appears to be the worst kept secret in town demand their share as well.
Mayhem and murder ensue, prompting lazy detectives Lakewood (Bill Pullman) and Chambers (Daryl Mitchell) to initiate an investigation they hope will not be too taxing. Russ decides to sell the ticket to Dick for $100,000 to get clear of the debt he owes to Dale. Crystal is irate, and she immediately seduces Dick to get back into her share of the winnings. Dale breaks into Dick's house and tries to rob the ticket from him, but the police arrive, and Lakewood ends up killing him.
On his way home, Lakewood comes across Russ who has jackknifed and overturned an 18-wheeler as he tries to unload his snowmobile inventory on another dealer. Fearing Lakewood has come to arrest him, Russ flees with his $100,000 on a snowmobile but crashes into a tree. At the hospital, Lakewood gives him a ticket for operating the snowmobile without a license and explains what happened to Dick and Dale. Russ goes to Dick's hospital room and steals the lottery ticket back. He gives it to Wendy the waitress from Denny's (Maria Bamford) and moves to Florida where he becomes a successful host of a gameshow called "Lucky Numbers".John Travolta as Russ Richards
Lisa Kudrow as Crystal Latroy
Tim Roth as Gig
Ed O'Neill as Dick Simmons
Michael Rapaport as Dale
Michael Moore as Walter
Bill Pullman as Detective Pat Lakewood
Daryl Mitchell as Detective Chambers
Richard Schiff as Jerry Green
Caroline Aaron as Nurse Sharpling
Sam McMurray as Chief Troutman
Michael Weston as Larry
Maria Bamford as Wendy the Waitress
Caroline Aaron as Nurse Sharpling
John F. O'Donohue as Bobby
Colin Mochrie as Jack
Nick Loren as Father
Jake Fritz as Sam
Emmy Laybourne as Process saver
Ken Jenkins as Dan Schuff
Filming locations in Pennsylvania included Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, Enola, Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, Palmyra, Penn Township, West Fairview, and Wormleysburg. Scenes also were filmed in California in Arcadia scenes along Route 66 stood in for Harrisburg's Route 22, Buena Park, Long Beach, and Sacramento, and in St. Augustine, Florida.Track listing
- "Light of Day" - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- "Obsession" - Animotion
- "Right Place, Wrong Time" - Dr. John
- "Easy Money" - Rickie Lee Jones
- "Heaven's on Fire" - Kiss
- "Rapture" - Blondie
- "Freeze-Frame" - The J. Geils Band
- "Love is the Drug" - Grace Jones
- "We Are the Champions" - Queen
- "My Way" - Jimmy Roselli
- "My Big Reward" - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- "Lucky Numbers" - George Fenton
The film, based on a $63 million budget, only grossed $10,890,222 in return.
Lucky Numbers earned negative reviews from critics, as it holds a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 96 reviews.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted the film "tells too much story at not enough energy. It should have been cut back and cranked up. Instead, it keeps introducing new characters until the plot becomes a juggling act just when it should be a sprint. And there's another problem: Is it intended as a comedy, or not? I ask because there are funny things in it, and then gruesome things, sad things and brutal things. Quentin Tarantino was able to cover that spread in Pulp Fiction. But Nora Ephron . . . doesn't find a way . . . So much depends on tone in a movie. Either you find the right one and stick with it, or you're in trouble (unless, like Tarantino, you really know what you're doing). If we're supposed to like these people, then there's a point beyond which they should not go in their villainy. If we're not, then the scenes where they're nice should have more irony . . . By the end of the film, we're less entertained than relieved. Lots of stuff happened, and much of it might have been interesting in a different kind of film. Here we got the curious sense that the characters are racing around Harrisburg breathlessly trying to keep up with the plot."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle observed, "As both a writer and a director, Ephron has specialized in sentiment mixed with wiseguy banter - a combination that sometimes works but just as often succeeds only in being both cloying and irritating. In Lucky Numbers . . . [she] is suddenly liberated, and she guides her talented cast toward performances that are playful and yet comically precise . . . It's a bit of fluff that, all the same, is a gentle commentary on human nature . . . Mainly it's just a showcase for a lot of gifted comic actors to show their stuff - and for Travolta to go from complacency to wide-eyed panic, hitting all points in between."
Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post said, "Although Travolta gets top billing, Kudrow is the film's true manic engine, and her ability to carry off perky amorality propels the preposterous plot forward through numerous twists and setbacks . . . Her co-star, looking bloated and inert, appears to have settled into the role of the fall guy rather than even attempt to be an active participant. Ephron doesn't look as if she has her heart in the job either. Yes, the film is dark (literally as well as figuratively, since certain scenes are almost murky), but the director doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that the material is as cantankerous as it is. Time and time again, she keeps pulling back from the abyss just when Resnick's story lets us know that it's ready to abandon all social decency and hurl itself over the edge."
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly graded the film with a "D" and commented, "The laughs are few in this inert, ungenerous comedy because Ephron's tendency to condescend to her characters, coupled with Harrisburg-born Resnick's mocking worldview . . . makes for a queasy time." She added everyone in the cast is "ill-served by the director's rhythmless pacing, her muddy visual sense, and her insistence on reducing characters to caricatures."
John Travolta's performances in this and Battlefield Earth won him the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor.
The film was released on DVD on March 20, 2001. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Nora Ephron and interviews with the cast and crew.