Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Why, oh, why, all the yammering? It's cute on Gilmore Girls, it's potentially appropriate on West Wing, but at some point all the talky-talky is just too much.

First-time screenwriter Jason Smilovic packs so much dialogue into Lucky Number Slevin that you have to wonder how many Red Bulls the cast needed to spew it all out so fast. One more shot of caffeine and record-holding speed-talker Lucy Liu would have had to put out a 911 to her fellow Angels to resuscitate her.

There's something to be said for quality of words over quantity too. Rory Gilmore might be a jabberjaw, but you'd never catch her saying something as mangled as her "dreams had just been the stuff of pipes." Ugh.

Lame, yes, but consider the lame title, which should be a clear indication that, somewhere down the line, Smilovic, director Paul McGuigan and the rest of the creative team flat ran out of gas.

And still, a movie inspired enough to put hunk-a-lunka Josh Hartnett in nothing but a towel for a good third of the film has to have a few redeeming qualities. In fact, noir-lite Slevin is a giant leap for McGuigan, whose previous work in Wicker Park was a sloppy wreck.

At least Slevin, with all its twisting, turning, bobbing and weaving, is like a funnier, yet not quite as clever Usual Suspects. Our hero is a guy named Slevin (Hartnett), who, after walking in on his cheating girlfriend, runs away to New York. But in the Big Apple his luck's no better: He gets mugged and beaten by gangsters who think he's Nick, the guy who lives in the apartment where Slevin's staying for his visit.

Slevin winds up in Nick's mess, stuck in the middle of a feud between rival gangs, headed by vengeful bosses, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and the Boss (Morgan Freeman). At the same time, he's being shadowed by a creepy killer (Bruce Willis) with unclear motives, and he's being romantically pursued by Lindsey (Liu), Nick's neighbor.

From the opening scene (Willis in a wheelchair regaling a stranger with the tale of the classic "Kansas City shuffle" scam) you know this film is about getting played, and everyone's scamming everyone else. The cast of A-listers has fun with it, especially Freeman in a rare villainous turn. Even Hartnett seems to have discovered a personality since Wicker Park, playing Slevin with a smirk that suggests he knows more than he's letting on.

The tone is all over the place — murky one moment, funny the next, but that kind of spottiness works, especially when the slick production and quick pace take your attention away from what's really going on.

But the filmmakers can't keep it up. Eventually they run low on witty one-liners and kick up the schmaltz (including truly dorky "who's your favorite Bond" bed banter between Liu and Hartnett). It's then that this slick, would-be hardcore thriller becomes just a slick, softcore setup for what amounts to a fast-talking pile of mush.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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