The glitz and glamour of Hollywood is a long way from Lebanon County. The three thousand-odd mile distance aside, it can seem as though the Hollywood machine and the upper reaches of show-biz are light years away.
Nearly 20 years ago however, some of Hollywood visited Central Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 1999, crowds of people lined Main Street in Palmyra hoping to catch a glimpse of a red convertible cruising down the road.
As it passed, they excitedly waved to the man in the driver’s seat: actor John Travolta.
Travolta was in town to shoot the film Lucky Numbers, a Nora Ephron (writer of When Harry Met Sally) directed comedy, very loosely based on the 1980 Pennsylvania Lottery scandal.
In the film, Travolta plays TV weatherman Russ Richards, who hatches a plan with a lottery ball girl, Crystal (Lisa Kudrow), and a strip club owner Gigs (Tim Roth) to rig the Pennsylvania Lottery in an effort to save his fledgling snow mobile dealership.
The film was shot beginning in the fall of 1999 and principal photography ran through the new year.
Scenes were shot all over Central Pennsylvania, including the film’s opening scene with Travolta in a red Jaguar convertible that was shot in Palmyra.
The house owned by Travolta’s character in the film is still perched atop North Forge Road in North Londonderry Township.
A photo gallery posted on PennLive has pictures of the Palmyra shoot as well as scenes being shot in Mechanicsburg. There’s even a picture of Travolta receiving the key to Palmyra.
Lucky Numbers would see a release date of October 27, 2000 and was met with much excitement at a premiere held in Palmyra, which you can see footage from in the video below:
While all of the local excitement was completely justified, when audiences got a chance to see the finished product, that excitement died down.
The film took an absolute beating at the box office, grossing just shy of $11 million worldwide against a $63 million budget.
The critical response wasn’t much better. As it currently stands, nearly two decades after its release, Lucky Numbers holds an underwhelming score of 22% on the review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes from critics.
Despite the paltry box office figures and less than enthusiastic response from critics, is Lucky Numbers actually a good movie?
Having watched the movie for the first time in preparation for writing this article, there seems to be a bit of a tone issue, at least according to this reporter. At times it leans too far into being a wacky comedy that falls flat during moments of gravitas. The film has difficulty staying grounded in reality, so a strong suspension of disbelief is required.
Think of it as a less well-executed version of the Cohen Brothers’ Fargo.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out Lucky Numbers, especially if you’re a Central Pennsylvania native who hasn’t seen it before.
The cast is legitimately star-studded. Back in 1999, Travolta was only a few years removed from his career reinvigorating role as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (which also featured Lucky Numbers co-star, Tim Roth). At the same time, Lisa Kudrow was starring as Phoebe Buffay on Friends, which in 1999 was arguably at its peak.
Rounding out the cast are other big names like Ed O’Neill (Married With Children, Modern Family), Michael Rappaport (True Romance), Bill Pullman (Independence Day), and, believe it or not, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine). Comedians Collin Mochrie and Maria Bamford also have smaller parts in the film.
While seeing so many actors that you’re familiar with makes for some entertaining viewing, the real fun comes from seeing familiar landmarks throughout the film.
Viewers with keen eyes and ears will see sights and references native to Central Pennsylvania all throughout the film.
There is some fantastic B-roll of Harrisburg specifically, and if you look to the background you may even catch signs for local attractions.
So, if you find yourself with about an hour and forty-five minutes to kill, and you haven’t previously seen Lucky Numbers, throw it on (you can stream it for free on Amazon Prime right now) just to say that you’ve seen a piece of Lebanon County cinematic history.