- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Last year’s “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” went by with a whimper, but it may have left a new genre in its wake — the wink-wink film noir.

“Lucky Number Slevin,” a kissing cousin to the superior “Bang Bang,” tries to stay two steps ahead of the audience while bowling us over with style and coal-black humor.

It’s a worthy niche to aspire to, but like a distracted actor, “Slevin” can’t fully commit.

Besides, “Kiss” had Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. to spout its cagey dialogue, while “Slevin” must make do with flickering heartthrob Josh Hartnett and Bruce Willis in dour mode.

Does he have another mode anymore?

Our story opens with a back story-slash-fairy tale, then introduces us to a distracted man named Slevin (Mr. Hartnett) whose luck has been nothing but foul. First, he gets mugged on the way to meeting Nick, an old pal who lives in New York. Then, Slevin arrives to an empty apartment, where a pair of hoods looking for Nick appear and accuse Slevin of owing their bosses a sizable sum.

When another group of goons drops by with a similar threat, Slevin suddenly finds himself in the middle of a gang war. He seems curiously blase about this development, especially whenever his friend’s perky neighbor (Lucy Liu, cast deliciously against type) swings by. Their flirtation feels like it belongs in another film, but Miss Liu is so endearing we swallow the subplot whole.

What’s harder to digest is the mob duel playing out around us.

In one corner is the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), a tightly coiled menace. The Rabbi’s nemesis is the Boss (Morgan Freeman, on refreshing hiatus from wise and empathetic character type), who has trouble keeping his emotions in check. A hit man named Goodkat (Mr. Willis) is working both sides, but seems to have his own agenda as well.

Director Paul McGuigan (“Wicker Park,” also with Mr. Hartnett) uses copious flashbacks, some stretching back days, others only minutes, and for the most part he pulls it off without losing the audience.

The last third of the film is chockablock with revelations, and while the pieces fit together in unexpected ways, it plays out more like a scriptwriting exercise than like a credible cascade of events.

Mr. Hartnett, who still doesn’t seem to belong front and center, adds so little to Slevin it’s hard to rouse sympathy for him. He’s a wiseacre at the worst possible moments, and his lack of fear in dire circumstances makes us almost root for him to get his comeuppance.

“Lucky Number Slevin” has ambition written all over its neo-noir surface, but ultimately the convoluted tale deserves a kiss-off.

**1/2

TITLE: “Lucky Number Slevin”

RATING: R (violence, bloody sequences and adult dialogue)

CREDITS: Directed by Paul McGuigan. Written by Jason Smilovic.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.slevin-movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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