"Lucky Number Slevin" wants desperately to be an intelligent, film-noirish crime caper, but director Paul McGuigan (of the TV series "Thief" and the recent "Wicker Park") has instead manufactured a smug, self-conscious film with decent actors acting out a script by Jason Smilovic that is alternately clever and seems to be sticking its tongue out at the audience going "You're gonna love this next scene."
Starring Josh Hartnett, who was also in McGuigan's "Wicker Park," as Slevin, who apparently lands himself at a friend's apartment about the same time a crime war erupts between two mob-type rivals, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Hitmen begin showing up at the friend's apartment door intent on collecting a gambling debt, and a mysterious hitman (Bruce Willis) follows his every move.
It's not that "Lucky Number Slevin" is a particularly bad film. It's a well-acted, reasonably suspenseful film with a fair amount of excitement wrapped around crisp dialogue and intriguing characters. It's nearly impossible, however, to not grow frustrated with a film that boldly promises intelligent twists that never really delivers on the promise.
Hartnett delivers a performance here quite similar to his "Wicker Park" performance. Harnett is a lot like Willis, it seems. He's an actor with limited range who does a few things quite effectively. One of his greatest "gifts" is to play a character without any semblance of an emotion. Of course, there's a touch of sarcasm here, but playing such a character is actually a challenge. Can you imagine Philip Seymour Hoffman NOT showing emotion onscreen? Hartnett's performance is detached, cool and yet never so distant that the audience completely detaches from the film. His semi-expressive face makes you care just enough to keep following him.
As the warring crime-lords, Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman avoid stereotypes in creating characters at war within themselves and with others. Freeman, in particular, offers his usual dependable performance by adding just the right touch of humanity to an otherwise despicable man. Kingsley, while effective in demeanor, has crafted a voice for his Rabbi that seems to be a more tolerable offshoot of his horrid "Bloodrayne" character.
As the semi-mysterious, self-proclaimed "world class assassin," Bruce Willis at times seems to be offering a live-action performance of his "Sin City" character. Similar to Hartnett, Willis's ability to act almost completely cool yet sympathetic pays off magnificently by developing a character who mixes a sort of vigilante humanity with icy homicidal tendencies. It's a detached, yet compelling performance.
As a mysterious neighbor, Lucy Liu offers her best film performance in years by delving deeper into a character who could be nothing more than a caricature.
The problem with "Lucky Number Slevin" lies clearly within a script that has either been embellished from its original state or is the result of a beginning writer who simply believes himself to be a lot more clever than he really is. This is, in fact, a great idea screaming out for a better script. Fans of film-noir and McGuigan's previous film, "Wicker Park," will find much to enjoy in "Lucky Number Slevin." However, with its over-abundance of smugness and narrator plot announcements, "Lucky Number Slevin" ends up playing like "Cliff's Notes" film-noir with a slightly cartoonish production design.
Who's really lucky here?
Smilovic. He got paid to write a script he never finished. © Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic