Lucky Number Slevin Review
By Joe Lozito
"Number" doesn't add up to much
Like a tremendous earthquake, "Pulp Fiction's" aftershocks continue to be felt along the fault line of the Hollywood gangster genre. And as is typical with duplication, the more you make copies of copies, the farther you get from the original. The latest entry in this crowded category, "Lucky Number Slevin", is populated with that same kind of quirky, hipster gangster that seems to pop up ever since Mr. Tarantino re-introduced John Travolta to the world. You know: the kind that shoot off their mouths as much as their guns.
The extremely likeable Josh Hartnett pushes his charm to the limit as Slevin, a wrong-man-in-the-wrong-place type of hero swept up in a gang war between The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley). It seems that both bad guys have their own reasons for thinking Slevin is who he isn't, and they each have a job for him to do. Since Mr. Hartnett's character is such a snarky wiseass, it's hard to care much about him, so the fun of the film is piecing together the whys and hows of the plot.
I never thought I'd say this about a movie starring Mr. Freeman and Mr. Kingsley, but Lucy Liu is the best thing about "Slevin". I mean, sure, Mr. Freeman and Mr. Kingsley give typically interesting performances. But, come on, they could make a movie about penguins
compelling. Oh wait, one of them already did that. But Ms. Liu, who usually chooses high-style low-substance roles ("Kill Bill"
, "Domino", "Charlie's Angels") sheds her typically icy persona and transforms into a cute, sexy, welcoming presence as Slevin's love interest. Her scenes breathe some much-needed life the proceedings.
The script, by Jason Smilovic, is certainly pleased with itself. He even goes so far as to use the straight-out-of-film-school term "inciting incident". The double-crosses, clever flashbacks and cross-cutting dialogue are all in place. But when your summation scene - in which all the twists and turns are smoothed out and handed to the audience on a platter - takes longer to explain than it did to setup, you've got a problem. Yes, the plot makes sense, everything wraps up in a nice little package, but the surprises are not particularly surprising. I don't want to give anything way, but let's just say when you start a movie with a scene from 25 years ago, it's a good bet you'll be seeing some of those people again in the present day.
Director Paul McGuigan, who also worked with Mr. Hartnett on the similarly forgettable "Wicker Park" has a good time with the film's style, but he's just killing time. What people most forget about "Pulp Fiction" and its ilk is that the violence and the style were secondary. The characters are what mattered.
Sure, we love to see Mr. Willis playing a "world-class assassin" in one of those performances where his face barely moves from his trademark smirk, but I think it's time to put the wisecracking, pop culture-spouting gangsters on the shelf for a while. There are other gangster stories to tell, and right now "The Sopranos" are the reigning champions. I, for one, would welcome more copies of that.