Tuesday, February 7, 2012

3 short paragraphs: Lucky Number Slevin

2006, Paul McGuigan -- Netflix

Lucky Number Slevin hit the theatres at the height of my Bruce Willis fatigue, so I actively avoided it. I made a point of not caring about it, reading no reviews, viewing few, if any, commercials and for some time I got it confused with the movies Running Scared and 16 Blocks (both of which came out the same year and seemed in the same vein of middle-of-the-road action-thrillers). About a year ago I popped in a rental DVD and the trailer for this film came up. At first I was puzzled, wondering just what the hell it was, then I became intrigued by the plot it presented, and finally sold by the playful dialogue. I wasn't rushing out to see it, but I would watch it when the opportunity presented itself.

The film is, largely, as the trailer presents it. A case of mistaken identity thrusts Josh Hartnett's Slevin into the middle of a mob rivalry, and he's so out of his depth that the film presents an almost inescapable situation for him. The dialogue is quick, punchy, and very amusing throughout the first two acts, a cross between noir and Naked Gun. Hartnett, an actor whom I've never warmed to before, is affable and enjoyable here. Lucy Liu is adorable, Morgan Freeman and Stanley Tucci are typically great, Ben Kingsley treated this one in the spirit of the film, instead of just a payday, and Bruce Willis really does fade into the background for the most part. And it's wonderful. For two acts.

As I said, the film is largely as the trailer presents it, but not fully. The first two acts provide a wonderful build for the mess Hartnett has found him in, but also weaving in a cute detective-romance between Hartnett and Liu, the rivalry between Freeman and Kingsley, the mystery of Willis' assassin, and Tucci the outsider trying to figure it all out. The third act, however, is a complete mess of exposition, repeated exposition. Flashback upon flashback, one character telling a story to another, and another to another, and on and on. It's not a cheat as the film has accounted for everything that is detailed in the third act, but it's a humourless, tiresome, offensive and unenjoyable climax to a truly remarkable build. I believe I would be more satisfied with a third act that cheated from the first two acts, but retained the same flavour of them, and didn't pull the rug out from under the viewer so hard. In the end, what could have been a great film, a cult film, is just and unfortunate disappointment.