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On the Q.T. -- leave the gangster genre to the maestro

April 07, 2006|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

"Lucky Number Slevin" is an attempted cinematic sleight-of-hand that has its moments, but is finally just plain annoying, wearing its influences too broadly on its sleeve. It's the type of movie where nothing is as it appears, and even when it's all sorted out it's completely unsatisfying. Written by Jason Smilovic and directed by Paul McGuigan, it's all razzle and no dazzle.

A diversionary confection along the lines of the far more treacherous "The Usual Suspects," the film stars Josh Hartnett as a seemingly unlucky guy called Slevin who, through a case of mistaken identity, finds himself in the middle of some dangerous characters.

A litany of misfortune places Slevin in the apartment of his missing pal, Nick Fisher, who has accumulated large gambling debts to two warring gangsters, the Boss (Morgan Freeman) and the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley). The mobsters' long-standing feud heats up with the murder of the Boss' son, which he attributes to the Rabbi. Each man separately sends a pair of henchmen to visit the delinquent Mr. Fisher and ends up nabbing Slevin. The Boss offers to forgive the debt if Slevin/Fisher kills the Rabbi's gay son. The Rabbi simply wants his 33 grand.

Hovering around the story's perimeter is Bruce Willis' elite assassin Goodkat, who at the beginning of the movie spins a yarn about a fixed horse race that took place 25 years earlier and ultimately ties into the present-day situation.

Pros like Willis, Freeman, Stanley Tucci as a grumpy cop, and Robert Forster in a cameo, make the sub-Quentin Tarantino dialogue fly at times, but it's mostly a flurry of non sequiturs and characters defining terms and names for one another ("What's a Kansas City Shuffle?" "A Kansas City Shuffle is when everybody looks right and you go left ... " "Why do they call him the Rabbi?" "Because he's a rabbi."). The presence of Tarantino veterans such as Willis, Forster and Lucy Liu -- in an endearing but thankless turn as a perky neighbor who works as a coroner -- only makes the comparison less flattering.

There is a sense of screwball energy in the frisky exchanges between Slevin and Liu's character, Lindsey, but as with nearly everything else in the movie, it relies almost entirely on the actors to sell it.

Hartnett makes the motormouth character and his propensity for getting socked in the nose likable enough, but at the same time, Slevin is maddening, as he and the smug script aren't nearly as clever as they think they are. With Slevin, it's an act. With the screenplay, it's tiresome.

All the exposition required to spell out the characters' ultimate intentions is not worth the effort. When Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie's "The Usual Suspects" does its big reveal, the realization is swift and economical. "Slevin's" is drawn out to awkward lengths. The loquacious gangster genre was snuffed out in the late '90s by less-talented imitators trying to cook up their own "Reservoir Dogs" or "Pulp Fiction." Unless Q.T. himself wants to give it a shot, it's far too soon for a revival.


"Lucky Number Slevin"

MPAA rating: R for strong violence, sexuality and language

An MGM release of a Weinstein Co. presentation. Director Paul McGuigan. Producers Chris Roberts, Christopher Eberts, Kia Jam, Andy Grosch, Anthony Rhulen, Tyler Mitchell, Robert S. Kravis. Screenplay by Jason Smilovic. Director of photography Peter Sova. Editor Andrew Hulme. Costume designer Odette Gadoury. Music J. Ralph. Production designer Francois Seguin. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

In general release.

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