Lucky Number Slevin

Directed by Paul McGuigan

The Weinstein Company

3 stars

You may have noticed that the word “Slevin” in the title of “Lucky Number Slevin” is not only the name of Josh Hartnett’s character, but also a clever rhyme with the number seven. Seven, coincidentally, also happens to be the number of bloody, noisy deaths in the movie’s opening 10 minutes.

It only gets better from there: after the carnage ends, Hartnett pops apathetically onto the screen wearing only a towel, his attire of choice for the following half hour. In said towel, Hartnett will be kidnapped by two warring crime bosses who think he’s someone else, get involved in a series of elaborate assassination plots, and flirt wittily with his next-door neighbor played by Lucy Liu. Every once in a while, Bruce Willis drops in to murder somebody with a pouty face.

Despite the constant presence of dead children and Morgan Freeman, everything about this movie is snappy. The names, for example, are exceedingly snappy. Bruce Willis goes by the candy-bar handle of Mr. Goodkat, and Freeman and Ben Kingsley are, respectively, The Boss and The Rabbi. The dialogue is even snappier: almost every question asked in this movie is answered with a snarky rewording of that question. (Examples: “Why do they call him The Rabbi?” “Because he’s a rabbi.”—Repeat 400 times).

Maybe the snappiest of all are the five or six bomb GQ suits Hartnett goes through after ditching the towel.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’ve heard some of the patter and pop-culture references of “Slevin” before. Director Paul McGuigan and writer Jason Smilovic owe the larger part of their souls to Guy Ritchie (for flashback sequences with crazy lens shading), John Woo (for slow-motion fight scenes), and Quentin Tarantino (for the entire script and plot).

But in defiance of the laws of first-grade math, the sum of all of these parts feels a lot smaller than the ultimate product. One of the production team’s mistakes might have been pirating off of filmmakers who are still making films, so its effort fails to stand out among other recent releases. McGuigan and Smilovic might have benefited from copying Tarantino one step further by looking for inspiration from a couple of decades before their own time.

The filmmakers also erred in taking the climactic and unexpectedly unique plot twist and unravelling it over the last quarter of the film, letting out whatever steam might have been collected along the way. Two other misdemeanors are a) continuing the trend of crediting Ben Kingsley as “Sir” for lame action movies and b)playing a rap song over the credits that summarizes the plot, “Mighty Ducks” style.

The only thing left to do is contemplate the social ramifications of a film that has two white males, one young and one old, manipulating and being manipulated by an old black man, an old Jewish man, and a young Asian woman. But somebody else can do that, my work is done here.

Bottom Line: Two guys plagiarize Tarantino, try to paraphrase so they don’t get caught, and manage to hang on to most of the fun while editing out all the substance.