One of the opening scenes in Two Lottery Tickets features a provincial big fish like Pompiliu Bors (Alexandru Papadopol). He tells his friend, mechanic Dinel Petre (Dorian Boguta) a historical secret. That Nikola Tesla, “the greatest inventor that ever lived was 100% Romanian”. A quick fact check reveals that Tesla was actually Serbian. But this feature is going to have that second place syndrome that both Tesla and people claiming Tesla as their own have. Actor Dragos Bucur, who plays Dinel’s and Pompiliu’s friend Sile, are on the producer’s chair here. He fills the rest of their cast with his students to tell the story of three men in Romania. These men play the lottery for the first time and win, only for thugs to steal that winning ticket.
Two Lottery Tickets, by the way, is a 2016 release that is just enjoying its North American release in platforms this spring. For the most part, it’s better late than never. Anyway, the thugs stole from Dinel in front of his building. Policing, as an institution, isn’t perfect, but Dinel and his friends decide that they’re somehow better than cops at investigating things. This is, of course, part of the second place syndrome that they have. Their first step, then, is to knock on every apartment to ask if they knew the thieves. After letting the plot unfold during the first of four acts, it moves to a second one. Here, they get inside the apartment of every weirdo who lives with Dinel. Comedy ensues. And that comedy is successful enough for many GIFs of it to still float around in Romanian internet.
A top ten movie in Netflix Romania, Two Lottery Tickets is at its funniest during that second act, but they eventually have to move away from the building once they get a lead. The problem now is whether or not it sustains viewer interest when they leave a scenario with ripe comic potential. The quasi-bottle comedy then turns into a road comedy. And it all depends on these characters are funny enough playing off of themselves. Is that better than them inadvertently surrounding themselves with provincial Romania’s secret quirks? The whole feature so far has many latent purposes, like showing that many Romanians like to wear sleeveless tops, which thank you. But placing the three core characters by themselves in a car trip means that the jokes center on how dumb Dinel is.
Although half of the jokes in Two Lottery Tickets feel esoterically regional and the other half goes for broad stereotypes, the execution of those jokes save the feature. Because I’m North American, I keep imagining an American version of this. One where ‘country idiots’ try to steal back their lottery ticket. This is also kind of the premise in My Name Is Earl. Comedy in this part of the world goes way over the top. Meanwhile Romania, a country known for its sad neo-neorealist features, does their comedy in more understated ways. These three guys, after all, are faking it until they make it with their millions. That’s one of the things that make the comedy here relatable. And the opening and closing song, which sounds like a karaoke favorite, is an earworm.