Jan. 23, 2006
By Kirk Honeycutt

PARK CITY -- "Lucky Number Slevin" is a crime thriller-cum-con job that might be too slick and clever for its own good. The movie risks alienating its audience initially with a welter of confusing story lines, dead bodies and random characters, only for the film to grandly pull together the missing pieces by fadeout. So here's an audience's dilemma: You know you've been had, but do you like it -- or not?

The guess is a goodly number of moviegoers will like it, though there will be those refrigerator moments -- you know, when you get home, open the fridge and suddenly say to yourself, "Hey, wait a minute!" But no matter how badly the movie cons you, you must admit that the film is stylish as hell with sharp dialogue, a tongue-in-cheek plot and visual and editing razzledazzle.

The Weinstein Co. might have gotten lucky as boxoffice looks promising, especially given a cast headed by Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley. Scottish director Paul McGuigan and writer Jason Smilovic have collaborated on a crime doozy that, after initial confusion, seems to center on a classic case of mistaken identity. A number of killings, a strange scene in an airport between Willis and a sleepy passenger and a flashback to a long-ago horse race inspire that initial confusion. Then the real story takes over with the promise that those early elements will become clear in time.

A fellow named Slevin (Hartnett) comes to New York to visit an old friend. Only the friend has vanished from his apartment. Slevin spends the night, then meets the cute and flirty girl next door, Lindsey (Lucy Liu). But his luck doesn't hold. Two goons show up at the door and absolutely insist their boss wants to see him. He protests that he is not the real occupant of the apartment, but -- more bad luck -- he can't prove his identity since a mugger took his wallet the day before. The Boss (Freeman) claims that the apartment occupant owes him a small fortune. He will forgive the debt if Slevin kills the son of underworld rival Schlomo (Kingsley). While he is contemplating his offer, similar emissaries from Schlomo come to the unlucky apartment and drag him off to see their boss. He is a Jewish gangster who also insists Slevin owes him a lot of money -- and he wants it now. All the while, a shadowy figure, clearly playing both sides against each other, lurks in the background. This would be the notorious assassin Goodkat (Willis).

Nothing, of course, is quite what it seems, which you know all along, but what you do not realize -- and this is the movie's greatest cheat -- is that some scenes are phony. Yes, the filmmakers violate the usual unspoken agreement made with audiences by showing scenes that later turn out never to have occurred. In fairness, from the beginning, the movie claims the ground of utter genre fiction. Characters even chat about other thrillers, movies ranging from James Bond to Hitchcock's "North By Northwest."

Message: Nothing is real here.
The primary enjoyment in this film is watching talented actors having fun with far-out roles. Hartnett is terrific as the unlucky Slevin, who turns tables and proves he can play with the bad boys at their own game. Liu is refreshingly winsome as the girl next door. Freeman, Kingsley and Willis don't so much chew the scenery as dine delicately on the decor. It's great fun to watch.
Tech credits are aces. The film looks stylish, sleek and up-to-date despite characters and subplots that harken back to "The Sting."

The Weinstein Co.
FilmEngine/Ascendant Pictures/Capitol Films/VIP 4 Medienfonds

Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenwriter: Jason Smilovic
Producers: Christopher Eberts, Kia Jam, Robert Kravis, Tyler Mitchell, Anthony Rhulen, Chris Roberts
Executive producers: Don Carmody, A.J. Dix, William Shivley
Director of photography: Peter Sova
Production designer: Francois Seguin
Music: Joshua Ralph
Costumes: Odette Gadoury
Editor: Andrew Hulme

Mr. Goodkat: Bruce Willis
Slevin: Josh Hartnett
Schlomo: Ben Kingsley
The Boss: Morgan Freeman
Lindsey: Lucy Liu
Brikowsky: Stanley Tucci

No MPAA rating
Running time -- 109 minutes