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Friday, April 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Lucky Number Slevin": Noirish mystery lets veteran actors have fun

Seattle Times movie critic

The comic noir "Lucky Number Slevin" is one of those movies that sounds like more fun than it actually is. It's not at all bad and often enjoyable, but you get a sense that it looked better on paper. It's a twisty-turny tale, ever so slightly reminiscent of "North by Northwest" (a connection that this film is quick to point out) about a seemingly regular guy (Josh Hartnett) who appears to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The agreeable, mild-voiced Hartnett is, alas, no Cary Grant, but he certainly looks good in a towel, which turns out to be his costume for much of the movie.

His character, an unlucky fellow named Slevin, is at the center of a wildly complicated plot, which involves a pair of dueling crime lords (Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman), the perky coroner-next-door (Lucy Liu), an obsessed detective (Stanley Tucci), a mysterious operative (Bruce Willis), an Orthodox gang, a Tower of Isolation, a blown-up building and a lot of fairly hideous '70s wallpaper. Jason Smilovic's screenplay zooms back and forth among the various characters, time periods (there's a flashback that doesn't make sense until the end) and genres. Sometimes the movie feels like edgy comedy punctuated by Tarantino-esque violence; sometimes it's more like a straight-up crime drama.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Lucky Number Slevin," with Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis. Directed by Paul McGuigan, from a screenplay by Jason Smilovic. 110 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, sexuality and language. Several theaters.

In short, it feels more like a series of bits rather than a coherent narrative, and director Paul McGuigan paces it this way; you never feel as if the entire movie has coalesced, though many of the individual parts are a lot of fun. It's a treat seeing Freeman, loose as a goose, having fun with the role of ultra-meanie crime lord The Boss. He and Kingsley, as head of the Orthodox gang The Rabbi, share some delicious screen time: two of our greatest screen actors, chomping the scenery as if it were a really good burger.

Willis, unfortunately back in smirking mode, keeps showing up at odd intervals, like he's wandering in off the set of some other movie. But Liu and Hartnett make an adorable couple, flirting over peanut butter sandwiches as the body count rises.

There's a slick, theatrical glibness to the dialogue and an over-the-top, almost psychedelic quality to the costumes and sets (note Freeman's green-bordered suit). "Lucky Number Slevin" is never dull, but it never quite transcends its own cleverness, either. McGuigan's clearly got a fondness for labyrinthine plots (his last movie, also with Hartnett, was the pretzel-ish "Wicker Park"), and he directs with verve and energy. "Slevin" is enjoyable to watch but quickly fades, like an overly complicated but tasty salad that you can't remember by the next meal.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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