It has been a while since I walked out of a movie with such mixed feelings: Is the movie bad? No. Is the movie good? No. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. I had been looking forward to seeing this based on the interesting-looking trailers, the good cast, and the fact that I enjoyed the director’s last outing, the remake Wicker Park.
Lucky Number Slevin falters in that it tries to be too clever for its own good. Anyone with half a brain will figure out the ending within the first 10 minutes or so. That is probably its biggest mistake; it gives away the destination before the trip has even begun. Taking the shortcut to the end wipes out any real need for what takes place in between, rendering the plot irrelevant. On top of that, we essentially see the movie twice. We watch it through, and then it is replayed as everything is explained. This further renders the actual plot moot as no one really has to pay attention to the details, since all will be explained later.
So, we have discounted the plot, and any need to pay attention to the details. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, one of the commercials for the film gives away one of the major “twists.” Combine the commercials with what I have already said, there isn’t much of a point to see this for the story. The big question now is what reason does anyone need to see this in the first place? And why did I still end up enjoying it? For one, the cast is good, none of them take it too seriously and are clearly having some fun with it. Secondly, there are some great dialog exchanges; none of them are realistic, but I have given up trying to conform films to my reality. So long as the film agrees with its own internal logic, I am OK with that.
The movie opens with a story of new crime bosses moving into town and wanting to make an example, a show of power. The story is told by Bruce Willis, going by the name of Smith, just Smith, to a stranger at a bus(?) terminal. From here the scene moves to the present day with Slevin, a guy who happens to be staying at a friend’s apartment. Slevin just happens to be moving in at the wrong time. It turns out that his friend, the absentee Nick Fisher, owes a great deal of money to rival crime bosses. Slevin gets caught in the middle, people thinking he is Fisher gets him stuck in the middle of an escalating war between the The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley). If you were paying attention to the story told by Willis, you will be able to guess the outcome.
The fun is in the characters and the dialog. Josh Hartnett plays Slevin, a quick wit, whose mouth tends to get him deeper into trouble. Slevin finds that special someone in Lindsey, played by Lucy Liu. I have never been the biggest fan of Liu, but her character her is adorably inquisitive, always trying to help beyond reasonable limits, a character who is innocent and sweet and gets caught up in Slevin’s predicament. Freeman and Kingsley are perfectly cast as rival bosses, who used to be partners. Then there is Stanley Tucci as the investigating detective, perfect for the role. Not to be outdone, Bruce Willis exudes cool as the assassin Mr. Goodkat, aka Smith.
Director Paul McGuigan has a good visual style. He has brought a film that is visually and stylistically interesting, even if the plot is somewhat lacking. He is definitely a director to keep an eye on. Jason Smilovic wrote the film, and while he has a pretty good handle on clever dialog exchanges, he needs to work on keeping the story interesting. If he can combine those exchanges with a plot that keeps you guessing, he could be on to something; sadly as it is the film ends up being like a second-rate Tarantino script.
Bottomline. Despite its flaws, I still decided that I really enjoyed it. The dialog is fast-paced and witty. The performances are fun. Overall, this is the kind of movie in which you just have to sit back, shut down the brain and enjoy the cool.