Money for Nothing

I'm guessing I'm not the only Floridian who's ever played the "What would I do if I won Lotto?" game. You know the drill: It's Saturday night. 10:55 p.m. In two minutes the six numbered Ping-Pong balls that will change your life forever will be drawn. You sit in front of the TV clutching the ticket you bought at 7-Eleven just a few moments earlier, envisioning different ways to blow the millions you will be winning shortly.

You picture yourself smiling for the cameras, holding that big fat cardboard check with all those zeros. You're not thinking about paying off the Taurus or setting up a trust fund to provide for the kids' education. After all, if you really cared about doing the right thing with your money, you wouldn't have bought a lottery ticket in the first place. You would have subscribed to Money magazine, bought a few Sylvia Porter books, or compared the rates of return on money-market mutual funds versus T-bills.

This is fantasy time. You let your imagination run wild. Give the boss the finger. Blow this pop stand. See the world. Hang with the high rollers in Vegas and Monte Carlo. Ski Bariloche. Surf Bali. Shop at Bal Harbour and give the salespeople all kinds of shit. Eat stone crabs every night. Bathe in Brut, skinny-dip in Dom, paddle through a pool of Perrier. Go to the full-serve island and fill 'er up with premium.

In short, you have fun. That's what a lottery ticket is really all about. A buck is a small price to pay for champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

And that's my problem with It Could Happen to You, a movie whose original working title, Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip, pretty much summed up the entire plot. This is a modern fairy tale about a flatfoot and a coffee-shop waitress who split a four million dollar winning lottery ticket. And it's as predictable as the inevitable letter from the IRS. For all its sweetness and charm and old-fashioned Capra-esque feel-good formula cheer, It Could Happen to You is short on imagination and fun.

This is especially disappointing coming from director Andrew Bergman, whose previous outing, Honeymoon in Vegas, was such a pip. Bergman and screenwriter Jane Anderson (HBO's The Positively True Adventures of the Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom) draw their two leads as such salt-of-the-earth types that it's impossible to take them seriously. Charlie (the cop) knows everybody on his beat by name, helps blind people cross the street, and likes nothing better than playing stickball with the kids on his block. His wife, Muriel, a brassy hairdresser with a jones for the good life, tries to make Charlie miserable, but she can't do it. Charlie is the king of grinning and bearing it. Meanwhile, Yvonne (the waitress) is a kind soul so broke she can't even afford to divorce the slimeball two-bit actor husband who drove her into bankruptcy. Guess which two characters fall in love. Hint: They're the ones with the halos.

Honeymoon in Vegas had a sappy romance at its core, too, but Bergman (who wrote Vegas in addition to directing it, which may explain the newer film's inferiority) tweaked the proceedings with a little moral ambiguity (what kind of degenerate agrees to loan his fiancee to another man to cancel a debt from a high-stakes poker game?) and unpredictability (for a while it appears as though the professional gambler is the more romantic figure and that the fiancee will not return to her boyfriend, even though he's learned his lesson). Bergman, who has a knack for redeeming projects that sound like certain losers (So Fine, The Freshman) with quirky humor, can't quite pull the rabbit out of the hat this time around. In The Freshman you don't know until the very end whether or not Brando's Godfather-like character is a villain; in Honeymoon in Vegas you can't be sure which male lead will get the girl. But in It Could Happen to You the only mystery is why the saintly duo put up with their avaricious mates as long as they do. And there's no skydiving Elvis finale.

To be fair, It Could Happen to You is not without its charms. Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda make an appealing Charlie and Yvonne (but if it's sparks you're looking for, rent Body Heat). Rosie Perez gets to bitch her way through a few caustic lines as Muriel, although she's such a shrill ballbuster that you never really buy Charlie's willingness to suffer her derision.

But that's beside the point. When you're playing the lottery you're not looking for a modest return on your investment. You want the whole enchilada. It Could Happen to You steers clear of the risk and in so doing misses its chance at a jackpot.

 
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