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April 14, 2006

Puzzling Number Slevin not Lucky for audiences

Lucky Nu`mber Slevin is a full-speed collision between a peppy action comedy and a mopey melodrama. The result isn’t pretty, but it isn’t boring either. I can’t for a second recommend it, but I stayed awake without difficulty. Here is a movie with more wit than it knows what to do with, but not enough faith in its concept to stay afloat. Just when we want more unbelievable coincidences, more ridiculous twists, more outrageous characters, and more fast-paced dialogue, we get immersed in a real downer of a revenge tale. The violence becomes disconcerting: I laughed and then I felt guilty about laughing. That’s no fun. Why such a serious undertone was inserted into a fundamentally goofy screenplay is the great unknown here.

The plot, which should be the least of our concerns, follows Slevin (Josh Hartnett) as he arrives in the big city to visit his friend Nick. His problems begin when he can’t find Nick. Or maybe it’s when he gets his nose broken during a mugging. Or when Lindsey (Lucy Liu), the girl next door, walks in on him naked. Well, let’s just say that he’s got a lot of problems to work through. “What happened to your nose?” asks Lindsey helpfully. “I was using it to break some guy’s fist,” responds Slevin.

Then Slevin’s problems really begin. Two mobsters show up looking for Nick and take Slevin for a ride to see the Boss, played by Morgan Freeman as only Morgan Freeman could. Slevin carefully explains that the mobsters have picked up the wrong guy. “Wrong guy for what?” asks the Boss.

“Whatever it is you want to see me about,” says Slevin.

“Do you know what I want to see you about?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know I have the wrong guy?”

Unfortunately, in addition to hearing these great lines, we have to be told who the right guy is and why and what he has done and so on and so forth. I didn’t care about these details for two reasons. First, they bog down the film just as it is taking off. Second, I figured most of them out within the first 15 minutes. I am no Colombo (though Slevin himself is, as he investigates a crime scene by running through techniques he remembers from the TV show), so it is a bad sign when I am ahead of the game in a thriller. Never fear, thought I—surely what appears to be hidden is actually meant to appear. More must be hidden. But, no, all the twists and turns are basically evident from the get-go.

Like I said, the plot should be the least of our concerns. Knowing how it all ends should not matter. No one could possibly have taken Lucky Number Slevin seriously, not when you have Ben Fucking Kingsley playing a crime boss known as the Rabbi. “Why do they call him the Rabbi?” inquires Slevin.

“Because,” responds Morgan Freeman as only Morgan Freeman could. “He’s a rabbi.” No real plot explanation is necessary here. A film of the cast simply having dinner would be wildly entertaining. In fact, I’d even pay admission to hear Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley reading the phone book aloud. Stanley Tucci, as the policeman on the case, and Bruce Willis, as a hit man whose allegiances are confusing to say the least, add well to the mix.

The screenplay has the potential to deliver enough one-liners to keep logistic questions tabled for the duration of the film. Instead, it clumsily pulls them all out, letting us see the gears and levers when we really want to see the show. One minute we have Lindsey beginning a pick-up line with “I was just thinking that if you’re still alive when I get back from work…” and the next we have her crying over a charred corpse. So often action movies are accused of being over-the-top, but here, at last, is one that is somehow under-the-bottom. It is too practical and weepy to be entertaining. It’s a wreck, and it isn’t pretty.