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Slevin’ struggles through identity crisis

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

There is a clear problem with a movie that has to explain its allusions, especially when the movie tries to be smarter than the average flick. “Lucky Number Slevin” falls into this category – it is an intelligent movie painfully dumbed-down so that everyone is able to understand and follow along.

“Lucky Number Slevin” is about a case of mistaken identity. Slevin (Josh Hartnett), suffering from a series of bad breaks, heads to his friend’s apartment only to find his friend gone and a line of serious debt-collectors close on his path. Slevin is taken to the Boss (Morgan Freeman) and then to the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley), two rival mob bosses who conveniently live in apartment buildings across the street from each other, so close that they can even look into each other’s windows. Slevin is unable to convince them that they have the wrong guy and the only way for him to clear his name is to execute a hit.

Coming to his aid is Lindsey (Lucy Liu) who lives in the apartment across from where Slevin is staying. Fulfilling the role of Nancy Drew, she aids Slevin in unraveling the case of his mistaken identity. Adding to the identity confusion is a local police detective (Stanley Tucci) and the mysterious hit man (Bruce Willis) who keeps appearing everywhere.

The plot is nothing to get excited over – it speaks more of the familiar than the fresh. The case of mistaken identity has been around forever, and the movie is reminiscent of one of this theme’s most famous examples – Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” starring Cary Grant. Hartnett compares his character to that of Grant’s, just in case the audience missed that “Slevin” is unoriginal.

The film certainly tries to be smart and, in the hands of a more capable and experienced writer, it could have been. Instead every bright moment of cleverness is dimmed by its subdued examples and over-explanations. Unfortunately for “Lucky Number Slevin” other movies, such as “The Usual Suspects,” were far more successful about pulling the wool over the eyes of the audience.

Too many parts of the movie are predictable in the wrong places, and that takes away from the few good surprises of the movie. What “Slevin” has working in its favor is the curiosity of the audience – it’s obvious what they are trying to pull off, but the question is how the characters will get to that point.

The characters are what make this movie worthwhile and the true joy of “Slevin” is indeed the performances of the actors. They clearly had fun making the film, and the audience has just as much fun watching them.

Hartnett proves that he is a capable actor and can handle himself well with talented film veterans. Liu was also given the opportunity to relax and have fun, and it is refreshing to see her in a role where she isn’t the killer (“Kill Bill”) or scantily-clad (“Charlie’s Angels”). Bruce Willis is in fine form, as are the other supporting characters of Freeman and Kingsley. It is unfortunate that they couldn’t have had more time on-screen to really show off their skills.

The lesser-known supporting characters act impressively as well – one of the best performances in the film is that of Mykelti Williamson, best known as Bubba from “Forrest Gump,” as one of the Boss’ bodyguards.

Unfortunately for the excellent cast, they didn’t have the complexity of plot to live up to their skills. While enjoyable to watch, it is not the experience that it could have been. Watching “Lucky Number Slevin” is like reading the illustrated classic edition of a great novel. The audience is left wishing that they had seen the real version of the film – instead of the abridged and watered-down version.