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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

Lucky Number Slevin is a sure bet if you are looking for a great movie among the latest batch of new releases now playing at the Essex Cinemas. Slevin. That’s right. A horrible title that sounds like Sylvester the Cat’s answer to “How many Tweety Birds would you like to eat for dinner?” Perhaps that explains why this little gem of a suspense story has people shrugging and giving blank looks when asked if they’ve ever even heard of the movie. This is a shame because Lucky Number Slevin has a strong cast with a rocking story that will keep you on edge from start to finish.

It’s almost impossible to understand how a film starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Josh Hartnett, Lucy Lui, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci and Danny Aiello can mysteriously be released without a whisper of publicity or advertising, but
Lucky Number Slevin seems to be a child of the newly-formed Weinstein Company that has been left on our doorstep without so much as a note. What the Weinsteins don’t seem to get is that this baby may not be quite like every other cookie cutter crime movie cranked out by Hollywood every year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to give it a chance. This one is smart, clever, and keeps you thinking.

The story begins with a young man sitting in an empty terminal at an airport. He looks stressed, tired, and definitely in need of a break. Suddenly he finds a stranger, Bruce Willis (16 Blocks; Hostage), sitting beside him in a wheelchair, ready to give him that break but first insisting on telling the fellow a story. What follows is a story of horse-doping, gambling, and the murder of a family that happened back in 1978. What this has to do with the guy in the airport is anybody’s guess, and it appears that it will remain that way, although when Willis snaps the man’s neck and takes his body away in the wheelchair you know this film is definitely not going to follow the usual steps from start to finish.

Cut to Josh Hartnett (
Sin City; Wicker Park) as Slevin, a guy who is not having a good day. He arrives at the apartment of his friend Nick for a weekend of solace with his pal in New York after having come home unexpectedly the day before and finding his girlfriend having sex with another guy. No sooner has he gotten to the City than he is mugged and his wallet is stolen, then he gets to Nick’s place and finds that Nick is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately the door is open and so he is able to make himself at home while waiting for Nick to
come back. A knock at the door later and because he is lacking his identification Slevin finds himself whisked downtown wearing only a towel to meet with a notorious crime boss named… The Boss (Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby; Bruce Almighty) who mistakes Slevin for Nick, an inveterate gambler who owes The Boss $96,000 in back horse racing debts. The Boss tells the faux Nick that he is willing to forget the debt for a favor, which requires the seemingly stupid Slevin to kill his long-time enemy The Rabbi’s son in retaliation for the recent murder of his own son.

As if Slevin isn’t in it deep enough, he is taken back to Nick’s apartment to decide whether to accept The Boss’s offer or face his own extinction when the next knock at the door gets him swept back downtown, this time to The Rabbi’s penthouse. Yep. The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley, BloodRayne; Thunderbirds) has summoned “Nick” to demand his own favor in exchange for the young man’s life. He expects Slevin/Nick to kill The Boss.

From this point the story takes more wrong turns than Elizabeth Taylor at the marriage altar. Lucy Liu (
Domino; Kill Bill, Vol. I), as Nick’s neighbor Lindsey seems to bond immediately to Slevin, and their love of that other Bond – James – convinces him that love is truly in the air. Meanwhile, it turns out Lindsey is the local coroner and is busy dividing her time playing Nancy Drew as she tries to figure out where the missing Nick is while she is also stalking Slevin to find out what he is up to with these crime bosses. Along the way she collides with the ever-present Willis, known only as Mr. Goodkat, who seems to be playing everybody ~ The Boss, The Rabbi, Slevin, Lindsey, and even the absent Nick. The question is: What is his game? And how do you know if you are winning?

Just as the audience is sure that it will need a flow chart to figure out what is going on the conclusion plays out through a series of cleverly shifting scenes as the pieces of the puzzle come together. Much as in
The Usual Suspects, the answers are not so difficult to understand once you see the whole picture in front of you. You’ll probably have that same feeling that grabbed you at the end of The Sixth Sense when the obvious answers to the mystery were revealed and you realized that you were so busy connecting the dots that you didn’t step back and see what you were connecting them to make.

Lucky Number Slevin is a violent and at times shocking story, but it is also an intelligent one with a satisfying wink to the audience that acknowledges the filmmakers’ belief that audiences can be smarter than what most studio executives expect them to be. Now if only we could convince the studios that this is true.

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