I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Lucky Number Slevin

tn_luckynumberslevincountdownlogoLUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN is slick, clever, full of gimmicks and smart-alecky dialogue somewhere between ’90s post-Tarantino and some old Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY type banter. All of these things can really rub you the wrong way, and the more of these qualities present at any given time the more likely the wrongness of the rubbing. For me personally the rubbing was aligned properly for most of this movie, but it often seemed on the verge of pulling a 180 at any moment. So I can definitely see how you could watch this and just hate it if you were facing the wrong direction.

mp_luckynumberslevinMichael Meyers’s nephew Josh Hartnett plays Slevin, some dude who’s staying at his friend Nick’s apartment, gets mistaken for him and taken in by two rival gangsters, The Boss (Mr. Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley). This guy Nick owes them both gambling debts and neither much gives a shit that Slevin says he isn’t Nick. So he gets pulled into this situation where the Rabbi wants him to get $96,000 or something and The Boss wants him to assassinate the Rabbi’s gay son and the asshole cops (Stanley Tucci, others) are following him around but not helping and the cute, flirtatious neighbor (Lucy Liu) is helping him try to figure out what happened to her real neighbor, the actual Nick.

BruceMeanwhile, Bruce is lurking around playing Mr. Good Cat, “a world-class assassin” who always seems to be standing just around the corner watching and maybe chess-mastering and looking emotionless. This is modern, serious Bruce, not wisecracking Bruno. Come to think of it we really don’t get to see that Bruce Willis much anymore, do we? He’s always been versatile, and he’s very good at this type of role, but it’s sad how rare it is that we see him pulling out the David Addison type personality. Even in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD his McClane was battle-hardened and much more stoic and serious. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Funny Bruce. I haven’t seen COP OUT yet, but from what I’ve heard it sounds like it might not count.

But despite the presence of Serious Bruce this one’s kind of a comedy, and for the most part it gets by on goofiness. I thought it was funny that Slevin, after answering the door in a towel, didn’t manage to get dressed until 35 minutes into the movie. I know it’s  a total ripoff of what I thought should’ve happened in DIE HARD 2, but it still makes me laugh. In the same vein I got a kick out of how Liu forgets to mention until an hour in that (SPOILER) she has inside information about murder cases because she’s a coroner.

Hartnett has a real laid back charm in this role. For some reason I always expect this guy to be some hollow dreamboat chump with no brains or substance. But I keep seeing him being better than the movies he’s in (30 DAYS OF NIGHT, BLACK DAHLIA, now this) so I realize he could really have a breakout ahead of him if he gets in the right movie.

Liu is surprising in this one too. She usually plays some shades of a domineering or crazy bitch persona, even a little bit in CHARLIE’S ANGELS. But I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen one before where she’s just the nice funny girl. So she’s not just hot, you also like her.

Slevin claims to have “a condition characterized by freedom from worry or any other pre-occupation really,” so unlike Serious Bruce he usually has a wiseass comment for the various threats he faces. And as he gets more involved he just gets comfortable and goes with the flow. I like when the Boss’s two thugs show up unexpectedly at his (well, Nick’s) door and he innocently asks, “Hey guys, what are you doing here?”

It’s also one of those movies full of random dialoguical cutesiness, conversations about Liu’s “deceptively tall knock” or whether or not “borrowing a cup of sugar” includes borrowing the cup itself. I think most of it works just because Hartnett and Liu are quick with it and seem genuinely into each other. They even mostly or almost pull off some pop culture discussions, most notably the one about which James Bond is the best. I’m sorry, I know we all have those conversations in the real world, but in crime movie world I just can’t help thinking Tarantino owns them. Whether it’s fair or not a scene like that forces me to think “oh, I get it, this guy wants to be Tarantino when he grows up,” and that’s not a distraction you want. I don’t know, maybe I’m holding onto an out of date notion. Maybe enough time has passed that it’s okay to show your Tarantino influence openly. But if so I don’t think I’m ready to accept being that old yet. But this one’s not too painful.

The most forced pop culture reference hands down is The Boss’s monologue about the Shmoo, but I gotta admit that it’s pretty funny hearing Morgan Freeman talk about something so stupid with the exact same conviction he has in other movies where he’s giving wise advice or narrating about penguins. If there’s a weak link acting-wise I think I’d have to point at Kingsley. I know he’s a sir and all but his hammy American tough guy accents are getting a little tired in my opinion. He seemed like such a nice man. Why can’t he find some more pacifist characters to play?

The writer is some guy named Jason Smilovic. Doesn’t have too much filmatic experience, but was a writer on that KAREN SISCO show I liked. The director Paul McGuigan did one called GANGSTER NO. 1 that I heard was pretty good, but his main contribution to culture was to direct that boring x-men ripoff PUSH, paving way for the Academy Award winning title PRECIOUS BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE.

SPECIAL YOU HAVE TO SEE THE MOVIE FIRST TO READ THIS PART SECTION.

Although I kind of liked this movie the solution to what’s actually going on edged it right next to the border of Didn’t Like It. I mean, it works, it’s not a HIGH TENSION type of ruin-everything-that-comes-before-it twist. But it’s almost too many straws on that poor camel’s back. I was trying so hard to forgive its symptoms of Tarantino Fever, now all the sudden I gotta be okay with I Saw THE USUAL SUSPECTS Syndrome.

I guess at least they didn’t exactly copy the way the SUSPECTS twist is revealed, like SAW did. This one has Robert Forster suddenly show up as a character who lays out new facts in a monologue over the phone. At first I thought they cast him because of JACKIE BROWN, but you know what, I’m gonna assume this is actually the world’s first homage to Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO, where Forster plays the psychologist who (SPOILER) reveals some interesting facts about Norman Bates at the end.

The bigger problem is the way the change in tone pulls a takeback on what I liked best about the movie. It was Slevin’s casually humorous approach to dealing with the unluckiest situation in the world that made the movie fun. Now all the sudden they tell me the likable personality is a front, the dumb stupid luck is a deliberate setup, the relationship with Liu is creepy instead of sweet. I mean, they try to adjust for that, he tells her what’s up and I think the idea is that since she cuts up murder victims for a living she’s a big girl and can handle it. But it doesn’t seem fair to push her from having a fun adventure and falling in love with her neighbor’s friend to suddenly being complicit in an elaborate revenge murder plot against dangerous gangsters. There could possibly be one or two minor consequences from that that she’s not entirely prepared for, in my opinion. Plus, I don’t know how comfortable she oughta be that these people murdered her neighbor Nick in order to set the whole plan off. She knew that guy, she was gonna borrow sugar from him.

And once this is revealed I gotta start wondering about this Slevin kid. His parents are murdered, he’s taken in by a cold-blooded killer and trained his whole life to pull off this revenge. When did he develop his sense of humor, his strong opinions on the James Bond series, his awareness of THE WRONG MAN and Eva St. Marie? This can only mean that Mr. Good Cat is not always Mr. Serious No Smiles And All Business (And In My Case Business Means Murder). As Slevin’s adopted father he couldn’t have been scary and mean all the time or the kid wouldn’t have ended up like this. He had to have loose moments, teaching the kid to laugh and be a smartass and enjoy movies and have girlfriends. So that means he’s only Serious Bruce because we always see him on the clock.

Wiseass Bruno is still out there. We just need to find him.

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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 12th, 2010 at 1:49 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

41 Responses to “Lucky Number Slevin”

  1. Curious what you’ll review for the last few ‘spendables… DEMOLITION MAN or RHINESTONE?

  2. Just mentioning this movie gives me so many good memories about a trip to Canada, including the one Saturday that I spent with just walking through Toronto and the two following days that I spent at the airport. (The movie itself doesn’t really play a huge part in this trip, it’s just that I saw posters for it everywhere and really wanted to watch it, but unfortunately I had to leave a few days before it came out.)

    Also while I think that the movie is overall enjoyable (It’s weird that you seem to be more annoyed by its Tarantino-ness than I was.), the one thing I didn’t like is that you know right from the beginning, that the movie will end with a big twist.

  3. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 12th, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Bring back wise ass Bruno. I know he got sick of playing that role, but it must be time to bring back Joe Hallenbeck.

    And the big reveal/twist at the end, would it stand up to a repeat viewing, where all the pieces fall into place, like in The Usual Suspects as you go through it again? Or is it just a wannabe clever sack of shit? I remember this film not being worth a second viewing (mostly because I had Tarantino burnout at the time). I think I was ill with Guy Ritchie flu soon after. Never did get over that one.

  4. Well, there are some things that you probably only notice on 2nd viewing (Like the meaning of the throwaway comment about the way Lucy Liu knocks on doors), but it’s not a relevation like, let’s say “Fight Club”.

  5. My wish came true. Thanks Vern.

    This film is just the right kind of silly for me to enjoy. Reminds me of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with all the verbal gymnastics. I think this is the third movie the director has done with Hartnett so he gets all the jokes as the movie is clearly written for him and Bruce is really more in the shadows but he plays it perfectly. Funny Bruce wouldn’t have worked for this movie but I do miss him.

    Ben Kingsley seems to not understand how to play villains. Morgan Freeman played it dignified and a little playful but Kingsley seems to be trying some De Niro impression or something and it doesn’t work.

  6. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 12th, 2010 at 3:16 am

    Ben Kingsley can’t play villains? Have you seen Sexy Beast? Of course he has not got a dodgy American accent in it. But he is one of the scariest mother fucks in Sexy Beast.

  7. BTW, Paul McGuigan was also a hot candidate for the director’s chair of Fantastic Four, back in the days. I remember that, because I found it was odd to hear the name of the director of “The Acid House” between other attached names like Chris Columbus or Peyton “Bring It On” Reed.

  8. Once Upon a Time In China. I think 2 is the best.

    If you’ve seen those, The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk. So good.

  9. have to agree on the Sexy Beast comments, he is perfect as the dangerous crazy gangster, that knows no limits to getting Ray Winston to commit to the job

    As for Slevin, i liked it for its quirkiness and the fact Bruce underplayed what could have been a showy role. As for Sir Ben, i felt that he played the opposite end of Morgan Freeman’s type of character, playing it as someone who you wouldn’t be afraid of if you didn’t know that he was the reclusive head of a criminal empire

    Overall it was an alright movie, trying to hard to be many things but it was the smaller moments that made it worth while.

  10. All this stuff everywhere helped me build unachievably high expectations on this. The trailers helped lower them, but still – even a series of real life death matches between the entire cast of Expendables against the entire cast of Star Trek, Lost and Sex in the City (not neccessarily that order) wouldn’t have matched what this movie needed to be.

    There’s not just the boyhood dream cast though, but a whole stack of good moments and even new action innovations making it doubly unfair to be at any level disappointed by this movie. It’s impossible to truly stand back and say whether it’s great or not, but lemme be the good guy and help everyone here by hopefully dropping your expectations just a notch:

    * They didn’t wanna leave anyone out so even let Mohammed Ali shoot the action scenes.
    * They spent so much on cast that they couldn’t afford to make one of those classic scores so hired the guy who composed the Saw theme to mix it up (like they did with Shutter Island).
    * I literally dozed off for a few minutes during a car chase (to be fair, I was in director’s suite cinema reclining leather after downing a pizza and beers on 3 hours sleep)
    * The expendable characters dun have the character of Predator’s expendables, or for that matter even King Arthur’s (2004) expendables.
    * It’s not a far step for WWF types to go into film since they are already as much actors as they are athletes, but that dun neccessarily hold true for the UFC.

    There, you can thank me later. You gonna have to meet me halfway and avoid reading reviews though cos this dun work if you know what all the good points are.

  11. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 12th, 2010 at 5:26 am

    AU Armageddon. Unachievable expectations have spoilt this then? Or is it really not as good as King Arthur’s gang?

    I have kept The Expendables spoiler free for this very reason. I did the same with The A Team and loved just about every minute.

  12. I honestly don’t know because I’ve been wanting this movie to happen ever since those endless rumours started of Arnie, Stallone and Norris’s mercenaries defending Earth against aliens movie back in the 80s.

    My favourite genre of movies are any that have one or more decent sized parties of characters where I know all the characters quickly, they are distinct, diverse and interesting or otherwise larger-than-life, and I know who is who, and care what is going to happen to them. As well as Predator (1 & 2) and King Arthur this includes also stuff like The Wanderers, Steel Frontier, Mad Max trilogy, Cyborg, Star Wars, Magnificant Seven, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Poseidon Adventure, Aliens, The Wizard of Oz, Lock Stock, Watchmen, Conan the Destroyer, Willow, The Goonies, old Sinbad, Heston, and Kirk Douglas type stuff etc.

    Not Lord of the Rings (only Boromir was actually distinct from the other 8, and there were no enemy characters at all till Golem, and Boromir was dead by then) and worst examples are crap like Clash of the Titans (2009) which I didn’t mind as a movie but wasted opportunity in terms of characters, the new Percy Jackson is typical of that too, or there’s crap like Underworld and Push and Losers and Predators which are quite watchable and try really hard to be a character movies but someone on board making the movie doesn’t get how it works so too much hit and miss goin on.

    This stuff’s not as important to everyone so you might cross my reference to King Arthur’s (2004) gang off your list. Critically, the movie did shit too. I’ve watched it about 10 times cos I love the gang set-up. It’s infinitely more enjoyable than the very similiar movie Centurion which I turned off at 50 minutes last night cos I was getting bored but will watch the rest later and prolly overall like it.

    At the end of the day, I simply enjoyed watching King Arthur’s expendables more than Stallones expendables which is a negative to me so I listed it to help reduce your expectations of The Expendables.

  13. Being influenced by Tarantino; that’s a little like xeroxing a fax of a photo of a head of lettuce from the sixties . . . it ain’t been fresh for a while.

  14. The ending of this film annoys me too much. The rest of the film is fairly decent, but the ending is so “stupid masquerading as smart”. It entirely depends on the film lying to you. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but if I recall Slevin acts like the happy go lucky guy even when alone or in a situation where no one who needs to think he’s happy go lucky can see, he’s acting like that just to fool the audience. So you can’t figure out the twist, it’s not a logical step, it’s an entirely orchestrated “lol fooled you!” directed at the audience. I had a similar problem with The Illusionist that was out a few years ago, that was another film where the twist relied on just withholding info or lying to the audience, rather than to other characters. It just pulls you right out of the film.

  15. Is the opposite of THE SECRET to unvisualize the thing you want least in order to dematerialize it out of existence? In that case, then AU’s opinion on THE EXPENDABLES the day before I finally get to see it should be disappearing from this plane any second now. I’m unvisualizing as hard as I can, I swear.

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    August 12th, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Robert Forester performed one of his many inexplicable pop-up roles in some lame Lucy Lui vampire film. The only reason I remember this is because I saw this film with a guy who had a crush on Lui. Part way into the film, some dude stood up and shouted, “This is your FARGO, Lucy Lui!” I thought the guy was joking until he stood up again at the end of the film and applauded, which always looks a bit pathological in a near-empty theater.

  17. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 12th, 2010 at 8:29 am

    I know what you mean Mr. Majestyk, this is the first news of any kind I have heard on this movie, and I am shaken somewhat. It has to be a better team dynamic than King Arthur. It has to be. Just gotta be.

    I need a drink.

  18. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 12th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Lucky Number Slevin rubbed me completely the wrong way. It was all just so fucking… whimsical. I didn’t even watch it till the end, and good riddance, apparently the ending would have pissed me off even more.

    Robert Forster has a funny tradition of blink and you’ll miss him parts. I fondly remember him being one of the first billed people in the trailer for “Mulholland Drive”, and then he is in it for something like less than a minute…

  19. Luckily, I used THE SECRET to visualize myself not reading AU’s posts. I’ll check back in later when he’s calling me a cunt, though.

  20. Vern – I’m surprised you didn’t go THE JACKAL for Bruno.

  21. I liked this movie, but I felt the first scene just makes the twist not a twist. They wouldn’t have told you all that if it didn’t have something to do with the plot, so I doubt many were surprised by how it unfolded.Also, the trailers gave some stuff away, like how it was Goodcat who killed one of the bookies at the start.
    About Bruce’s versatility…though I agree with the type of character he plays, it did occur to me recently that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in any role where he talks with a different accent. He’s a bit like Sean Connery in that regard.

  22. EXPENDABLES NOTE: Out of courtesy and honor please don’t start discussing it in these other threads. It’s only Thursday morning here at outlaw headquarters. I’ll probly put up a blank post for it so you guys don’t have to wait for me to finish my review to discuss it, but I still gotta do Statham, Jet and Sly reviews…

  23. – Vern

    Damn. I just got back from The Expendables and was gonna write a quick review, but I guess I`ll have to wait. Please put up a blank post.

  24. Btw, for the folks who don’t buy that Kingsley can play a villain, check him out in the Hitchcock-meets-Dostoyevsky goodness that is TRANSSIBERIAN. A very measured, textured, but menacing performance. It’s funny, Kingsley seems like he’s hardly trying most of the time these days (lame performances in WAR, INC and pretty much the same in SHUTTER ISLAND, terrible performances in awful shit like SOUND OF THUNDER and BLOODRAYNE), but every once in awhile you remeber how damn great he is. I don’t know if I know any other great actor who has the capability to be so bad when slumming it. Mostly classy actors like Malcolm McDowell or Sam Neill usually run rings around everyone else even when it’s obvious they’re not trying very hard; Kingsley has some genuinely embarassing performances out there.

  25. I did not like that movie at all.

  26. I remember vaguely enjoying this movie and that when Lucy Liu isn’t playing a ballbuster she’s actually quite cute. A fine, forgettable popcorn movie.

  27. Kingsley plays a fantastic scene-stealing villain role in “Sneakers” (another of my favorite films. Fantastic tight little techno-thriller.)

    Also it took me a second to get the “Why can’t he play a pacifist for once” dig. Hee.

    I might check this one out. Sounds interesting. I’ve deliberately avoided all the spoiler discussion so I don’t know what the ending is, but Morgan Freeman as a gangster has to be worth a laugh. (Although I’ve been waiting years for him to play anything other than his one usual character, and I’ve not seen it yet.)

  28. on the subject of wise-cracking, bruno-style bruce, yes, i agree we have not seen him in a movie in a while (was THE SIXTH SENSE the start of this serious, stoic bruce phase?). the fact that it was stoic bruce who showed up to LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is the main reason i could not give that movie a passing grade (there are many others, though). it simply wasn’t john mcclane, in my opinion. john mcclane wouldn’t wear designer jeans and leather jacket, and most importantly wouldn’t be quietly stoic most of the time. however, whenever bruce is on letterman (and i assume other chat shows), he is old-school wise-cracking bruce. so that guy still exists.

  29. I think the most notable thing about this movies is that it must have one of the top all-time worst names of any film of the last decade, if not of all time.

    Puns involving character’s names are already pretty terrible, and this one takes the cake by making a pun out of a stupid fucking fake name that they made up for the movie that no one has as a first name in real life. Seriously, did they work backwards from the phrase “Lucky Number 7” and the best they could do was make up a shitty pun that doesn’t make sense? Or what?

    Plus saying it out loud makes you sound like you’re drunk. Just a terrible, terrible title.

  30. How can a guy who’ll make a crack like “1-800-CAN I GET ANOTHER DEAD ASIAN HOOKER BITCH?” be considered “stoic Bruce?” Yeah, he was a little more downtrodden than in DIE HARD 2 (but not WITH A VENGEANCE), but that was the place the character was at in his life. His family wouldn’t talk to him, and he didn’t even have the sweet embrace of the bottle to comfort him. I’d say for a guy in that state, he had a pretty sunny disposition. He was making wisecracks all through that movie, and he ended it smiling.

  31. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    August 12th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Maybe it was all about the nicotine for McClane. I can’t remember if he got to smoke in Die Hard 4. Would explain the lack of sense of humour.

  32. Paul – hell yes on the SNEAKERS reference.

    Mr. Sublety – Since when haven’t people bought Gandhi as a baddie?

  33. I also liked the bit in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD where he suspects the dispatch operator is a phoney, so we get something like this:
    “Hey, dispatch, I guess you’ve been pretty busy dealing with all those 447s today, huh?”
    “…Yes, sir, we’ve been undermanned dealing with it”
    “Really? You’ve been sending out reinforcements to deal with all the naked people walking around, huh?”

  34. Oh I know, he’s still funny in part 4, I just mean compared to earlier John McClane he’s more serious. He can sometimes use a silent glare instead of an insult. So even in his signature smart ass role he leans toward Serious Bruce. I think it’s appropriate for the character and story, I’m just pointing out that it’s been a while since he’s had full wisecracking powers in a movie.

  35. You’d better hurry with the rest of your EXPENDABLES countdown before it loses momentum. I hope your next film is a Li/Statham twofer like THE ONE or ROGUE ASSASSIN.

  36. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 12th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    I don’t agree that it was appropriate how McClane was portrayed in Die Hard 4. That film seems so out of touch with what the movies before were. Tell me one real difference in the acting Willis does between Die Hard 4 and, for example, Surrogates . The John McClane character was completely lost. The moments that were there to show off his persona seemed forced at best.

    And why where the action scenes based on True Lies? And why was the showdown so terribly lame?

    Sorry, i just realized i think that Die Hard 4 is a real piece of shit.

  37. May not seem it right now MrM, but I’ve done you a huge favour. They say you have to be cruel to be kind, and I’m all heart, AU_Jigsaw if you will.

  38. Vern, did you happen to watch the alternate ending of Lucky Number Slevin? It was included in the extras of the German DVD release I saw a year or two ago. No idea if it’s on every release, though. Maybe it’s also on YouTube.

    Anyway, that ending took the twist even a step further. Test audiences probably hated it, so it got shelved for the final version. Did anybody else catch it? Opinions?

  39. I thought PUSH was pretty good actually

  40. I really like this, but I have begun to suspect my taste in movies is terrible.

    I thought every actor gave a good to entertaining performance (especially Hartnett) and I thought the discussion on kosher killing was interesting. However, Vern is right when he says that the ending really makes Slevin a bit of a creepy guy, considering how he uses everyone. I wasn’t expecting the Tucci ending, though.

    And the whole movie has mad wallpaper.

  41. About the Tucci reveal though, they reveal that Kalevra means “Bad Dog” like it’s some big callback, but I don’t remember anyone mentioning “Bad Dog” earlier in the movie, so I don’t see what the significance was of it.

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