Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: October 27th, 2000 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Nora Ephron Actors: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O’Neill, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman, Daryl Mitchell, Richard Schiff, Michael Moore, Sam McMurray
n Harrisburg in the winter of 1988, local celebrity weatherman and snowmobile dealership owner Russ Richards (John Travolta) cruises along in his sporty red Jaguar, enjoying his fame, fortune, and reserved parking spot at Denny’s. He soaks up the recognition he receives from his WTPA time slot, always willing to pay a compliment or take a photo with a fan. But with the ongoing heatwave and his extravagant spending, his funds are running low, resulting in a foreclosure notice from the bank.
Russ begs his boss, Dick Simmons (Ed O’Neill), for an advance, but the request has become too routine, and so he’s turned down. Even his regular liaison with Pennsylvania Lottery girl Crystal (Lisa Kudrow) doesn’t provide much relief. Sleazy, criminalistic pal Gig (Tim Roth) is also unable to lend him the necessary funds, prompting Russ to plot a fake robbery with inept conman Dale the Thug (Michael Rapaport) for an insurance scam. “You do have options.”
Hilariously, even the hypothetical daydream scenarios are staged like a gameshow, which is what Russ hopes to one day host. Of course, when it rains it pours; simple plans go terribly wrong, forcing the under-the-weather weatherman to devise even riskier schemes to get ahead. It’s a curious yet refreshing change of pace for Travolta, who takes on a role that is prissy, nervous, artificially chipper, uncertain, and unconfident. He’s not the macho, cocksure man-of-action anymore (specifically after a string of serious turns in pictures like “The General’s Daughter,” “A Civil Action,” and “The Thin Red Line”).
In fact, there’s not really a worthy, decent, upstanding character among the cast. It’s hysterically populated by scoundrels; they’re all cheating, cursing liars on the verge of murder (assassination becomes an increasingly casual suggestion) – should it be necessary – though they’re also of the deviously charming sort. Failure or success actually matters much less since they’re not exactly the type worth rooting for; instead, the entertainment comes from how spectacularly catastrophic everything might turn out (like a slapstick version of “Fargo”). After all, the lead characters are equally deserving of a momentary windfall or a spell in lockup.
There would have been a mystery afoot, except that the audience already knows how everything went down, which leaves only the humorously messy manner in which machinations fall apart. The film manages to bring out the worst elements of humanity – always in comical fashion – with no hope for a moral compass or redemption. It’s especially surprising that even law enforcement figures are unscrupulous; filling a film with nothing but petty, unintelligent antagonists seems like an unusually difficult feat. Small roles by Michael Moore and Bill Pullman are also grand, adding additional sordidness to the exceptional amount of nearly poetic skulduggery. By the end, it’s obvious that the pacing is slightly off, but an undeniable entertainment value can’t seem to elude this collection of hopelessly bumbling, colossally stupid crooks. “There is a limit to my classiness!”
– Mike Massie