Bad title, good film
“Lucky Number Slevin” is far smarter and more satisfying than it looks – or sounds. Other, higher-paid movie reviewers have already blasted the movie’s dopey title, so I’ll leave that one alone, except to say that “Kansas City Shuffle” would’ve served it better – especially as a meta-joke that no part of the film actually happens in Kansas City.
But while most of the cast is top-notch (Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis, Robert Forster), banking on Josh Hartnett and a “Charlie’s Angels” alum (Lucy Liu) to carry a cerebral thriller seems like a sucker’s bet. As much of the plot hinges on a case of mistaken identity, it’s key for Slevin (Hartnett) to remain a mystery. That’s no easy task when most scripts bury the main characters in baggage and backstory, but Hartnett’s up to the challenge – not too dark, not too light. The filmmakers require less of Liu, who basically has to play cute, curious and persistent as the coroner who lives next door to the apartment where the mysterious Slevin is staying after arriving in New York.
Freeman and Kingsley enter the picture as the Boss and the Rabbi, respectively, a pair of dueling warlords who want to meet Slevin, or at least the owner of the apartment, who they think is Slevin. Not only does each of the two crime bosses have a matching pair of bodyguards, but the two stare at each other from matching penthouses across the street, too scared to leave their headquarters.If that seems like a subtly Shakespearean touch for a crime caper, it might be because “Lucky Number Slevin” is slightly better than the standard heist flick. In aiming lower than, the lofty ideals and psychodrama of “Inside Man,” it actually does more with less. It comes closest to the likes of “Payback” (which also featured Liu) and the underrated “Confidence.”
But “Confidence” never slowed its quick-moving pace or dulled its sly wit, hurtling through the denouement just in time to wrap the bow around the ending. “Lucky Number Slevin,” on the other hand, is a little too proud of its own coup de grace, and spends far too much time driving home the ruse.Maybe they should’ve called it the “Kansas City Shovel” instead.
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