Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Adam gets conned by Lucky Number Slevin
Lucky Number Slevin is a lot of things.
It's overly clever, verbose and convoluted. It's a little bit noirish, a pinch of 60s-style revenge film, a peck or two of early Seventies caper and a smidgen of a clever English crime comedy.
It's all of those things, to a degree. And none of them. Because Lucky Number Slevin really does want to be something different, it reaches in a dozen directions and doesn't quite get to any of them.
Slevin Kelevra (Josh Hartnett) is having a really bad week. In one day he's lost his job, his apartment and his girlfriend. Bad things come in threes, you see. So, of course, when he goes to New York to visit his friend Nick Fisher (), he gets mugged. Bad things happen in threes, yes, but Slevin's on a roll. Why should bad luck stop for him?
When he gets to Nick's place, his friend is nowhere to be found, and people keep showing up to talk to Nick. People who beat the stuffing out of Slevin and point guns in his face. People who take him to meet rival crimebosses The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), both of whom are owed money by Mr Fisher.
The gangsters give Nick/Slevin rather pointed choices to clear his debt. The problem is, everyone who could identify that he's not Nick are dead. He's been painted into a corner and now he needs to find a way out. And, of course, there's an assassin who knows the parlance of the long con as well as a seasoned grifter. And cops. There have to be cops, I believe. It's a rule.
This really doesn't even begin to describe the myriad twists and turns that the film navigates. Thankfully, they include a foil for Slevin in the figurative Girl Next Door (Lucy Liu), who's actually insanely likeable for a change (I would not be counted amongst even her casual fans before this film). Slevin runs through the story with her so you can catch up occasionally, or bone up on your backstory.
The dialogue is snappy and occasionally overly adroit, but it's handled so naturally by the actors; in particular Bruce Willis (as Goodkat, the assassin), Hartnett and Liu; that you accept it as the vernacular of this story. Freeman and Kingsley are masters of their craft, and frankly could have been reading the phonebook and been golden.
Hartnett is something of a conundrum. He's an actor who has the goods to be an honest to goodness movie star: he's good looking, he can act, and he has charisma to burn. But he keeps ending up in dreck like Hollywood Homicide when he makes a mainstream picture. Thankfully, he balances the scales with more interesting fare like The Faculty, Sin City and Slevin.
Liu is also a surprise. Like I'd mentioned before, I am not a fan. She's great in this, even though it's a smallish part (pretty much every part other than Hartnett's is smallish). She has a rather convenient reveal mid-picture ("Didn't you know? I'm a coroner."), but she hits all her marks like she was born to 'em. Maybe, just maybe, doing some lighter fare like Charlie's Angels pulled the proverbial stick out of her heinder.
There's more double and triple-crosses going on than anyone's quite privy too, though copious clues are sprinkled to let you in on bits and pieces of the plot before they finally fess up and give up the goods. Everyone's playing everyone else like a fiddle, but you don't know who has the set list until the final act -- which is, after all, as it should be.
I'd heard the stock complaints about Slevin, and knew going in all about the slick dialogue and undluly complicated scenario. Frankly, the bad buzz is bullshit. Some folks just don't appreciate being fooled and they lash out.
Had I known that the entire story line was a Kansas City Shuffle, I might have made some of the guesses that I'd made in Inside Man -- where I'd managed to figure out what was up fairly early. But, I let the confusion get the better of me. I was fooled. And dammit if I didn't have a great time betting on Lucky Number Slevin.

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