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The Forgaughtens: Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Lucky Number Slevin - Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu

Slevin. SLEVIN!

If I asked you to tell me what a movie called Lucky Number Slevin was about, and you said, “It’s probably about a terrible case of mistaken identity that gets a man in a towel caught between two brutal crime lords,” well you’d be right, but I’m pretty sure you’d have cheated.

Anyway, that’s the elevator pitch for this movie, and while I’m sure Lucky Number Slevin is a hall-of-fame bad title, I’m also not sure what would have been better. “The Kansas City Shuffle” makes sense, but that’s similarly obtuse without context. Ultimately, however, these titles and the confusion that comes with them represent the experience of watching Lucky Number Slevin quite well. The whole film is a smokescreen, and while that didn’t really work at all with last week’s Forgaughten, The Recruit, it’s carried out here in a way that’s, for the most part, pretty charming.

Slevin, it turns out, is the film’s protagonist, and he’s played by Josh Hartnett (who one could write an entire Forgaughten book about), but we first meet a man named Goodkat (Bruce Willis). He’s sitting in a bus terminal when he starts telling a young stranger the story of a man named Max who bet too much money on a fixed horse race, which led to his entire family getting killed. It’s supposedly the story of a Kansas City shuffle, an incident in which someone “looks left when they should look right” and realize it too late. And so it is with the man in the bus terminal. After finishing the story, Goodkat snaps his neck.

Then, we meet Slevin, who’s going through a bit of a rough patch in his life, so he decides to visit his friend, Nick, in New York. His bad luck doesn’t end there, however. Before arriving at Nick’s, he’s punched in the face and has his wallet stolen. Once he gets there, he has no idea where Nick is, and Nick’s neighbor, a very bubbly and energetic mortician named Lindsey (Lucy Liu), thinks something nefarious happened.

Before they get a chance to investigate (and before Slevin is able to get dressed after a shower), some tough guys pay Slevin a visit … or is it Nick? They aren’t quite sure, but there’s a warm body, and they want to deliver him to their boss, a man known as “The Boss” (Morgan Freeman).

The Boss says he wants the $96,000 Slevin owes him. Slevin says Nick owes him the money, not Slevin. The Boss says he doesn’t care. Slevin says he doesn’t have the money. The Boss says that’s fine, but he can pay with a favor instead: Kill the son of his biggest rival, a man known as “The Rabbi” Ben Kingsley. He says he wants vengeance after The Rabbi ordered The Boss’ son dead. Slevin says he’ll figure it out.

The film is obviously quite plot heavy, but it also relies on mood in a way that ultimately works in its favor. Most of the characters in the film are enigmatic, and the film’s screenplay keeps its card close to its chest until it more or less explodes and starts showing everyone everything. I’m typically not a big fan of the climaxes that are defined by prolonged exposition, but Lucky Number Slevin pairs that with some surprisingly well choreographed sequences and follows it up with still another surprise or two that I really dug.

When I said most of the characters are enigmatic, the major exception is Lindsey, who unfortunately grinds things to a hault. I did enjoy seeing Liu pop on screen, but the character belongs in a cartoon, and when she’s on the screen, the film more resembles a bad screwball comedy than some sub-Hithcock/sub-Tarantino hybrid. The two things don’t flow well into each other at all.

But none of this really takes away from the film being largely enjoyable and very entertaining. It’s directed by Paul McGuigan, who I’m otherwise completely unfamiliar with. I think that must be because this film disappointed (both critically and in terms of box office). It also seems to have contributed to a slow down in Josh Hartnett’s career. I couldn’t believe this, but after Lucky Number Slevin and The Black Dahlia in 2006, I haven’t seen a film that the guy has been in since.

This bums me out, and while there’s no going back 14 years, it’s also never too late to give Lucky Number Slevin a chance. It’s an easy film to make fun of, but it’s sneakily a very good time.

Verdict: Unfairly forgotten

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