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Lucky Number Slevin

By BrianOrndorf

April 7th, 2006

“Lucky Number Slevin” didn’t strike me as unique, interesting, or even fun. Mostly it’s a laborious exercise in hipster screenwriting, bumbling its way to a wildly miscalculated finale. It tries to roll around in Tarantinoland, but fails to impress at every turn.


Slevin (Josh Hartnett, now experiencing bed head for his eighth straight year!) has just been mugged and beaten, and looks for solace in his friend’s apartment. Mingling with a curious neighbor (Lucy Liu), Slevin is soon hauled away by thugs to meet The Boss (Morgan Freeman), who mistakes the confused young man for his gambling addict friend. Looking for a repayment of debt, The Boss offers Slevin a chance to get himself out of trouble if he murders the son of his rival, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Slevin, in over his head, looks for ways out of this predicament, shadowed at all times by the enigmatic Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), a hired killer who pulls the criminal underworld strings.

After “Pulp Fiction” exploded in 1994, there was a slew of imitators that followed closely with identical ingredients. They all wanted a slice of the hipster criminal money pie, but soon the genre died and Hollywood moved on to superhero and horror movies. “Lucky Number Slevin” represents the next wave of spunky crime thriller/comedies, and if this film is the warning shot, the future looks bleak.

Written by Jason Smilovic, “Slevin” feels like a lackluster writing sample that somehow bumbled its way into a feature film production. Smilovic’s screenwriting is wordy, self-conscious, and cutesy, propelling itself with “Thin Man” speed, but stuck with film geek references that even fictional characters would never be caught dead speaking. It plays like the “Gilmore Girls” with more bullets and bad haircuts, but without a scrap of charm or artistic proficiency. With lovers comparing James Bond actors in bed, The Rabbi chatting up “North by Northwest” with Slevin, or just general meaningless back-and-forth quipping between enemies, “Slevin” rambles on and on with incessant dialog. It soon becomes crystal clear that Smilovic is trying to cover for the lack of dimension in the film with all his toothless wordplay.

Director Paul McGuigan (who worked with Hartnett in “Wicker Park”) is also incapable of bringing any spark to this dried up story. He’s hedged his bets by casting the film with sparkling stars, and there’s a minor tremor of excitement that comes with watching Freeman, Willis, and Kingsley in a room together. OK, after “A Sound of Thunder” and “BloodRayne,” maybe not Kingsley so much. McGuigan tarts up the film with moody photography and some trick shots, but he is completely unable to find a pulse to the story. “Slevin” arrogantly assumes itself a wickedly clever creation, but there’s little proof during the film that validates the production’s argument.

In the finale, “Slevin” turns into a “Usual Suspects” event, where Smilovic is looking to blow minds by yanking the plot inside out. What the writer and director fail to do with the rest of the film is find a convincing reason why the viewer should even care by this point. There’s so much attention placed on tongue-twisting dialog and showboating characters that to try and reshape this experience as a brain-tickler is unreasonable and quite tedious. The final 15 minutes of “Slevin” are devoted to McGuigan flat-out explaining the plot to the audience, which is now divided into two camps: those that have no desire to learn the “truth” in the first place, and those who figured it out in the opening reel because Josh Hartnett is incapable of a performance that requires a character to convey the illusion of ingenuity.

My rating: D