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The Mass Media

An Okay Movie With A Great Title: Lucky Number Slevin

You look familiar. Have we met?
You look familiar. Have we met?

A fact settling perusal of IMBD once brought me to a funny anecdote about Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Wells. Upon hearing that Bogdanovich had settled on the title Paper Moon (1973) for his new movie Wells said, “That is so good, you shouldn’t even make the picture, just release the title!” While Lucky Number Slevin ranks high on the ‘clever title-o-meter’ the movie doesn’t make the lasting impression that a film like Paper Moon does. Self-reference is one of Hollywood’s favorite indulgences. There is a double pleasure in catching a reference to other movies. Lucky Number Slevin uses this double pleasure technique by directly referencing North By Northwest (c.1959) and the James Bond films (c.1960-????). However, these references don’t divert your attention from the movies that seem to most inform Jason Smilovic’s clever story. Instead these kinds of references make Slevin seem more like a formula film than it should. Lucky Number Slevin is an enjoyable film with many twists and turns that make it impossible to summarize without spoiling the surprises. Suffice it to say: it’s a glitzy, stylized revenge story, with a case of mistaken identity, and some very clever dialogue. It is so punchy you will leave drunk. In the end, you might think you’ve seen Slevin already, or parts of it. Watching Lucky Number Slevin is like driving down a familiar road that has been newly landscaped. Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsly are stately mansions that capture your fancy, but you don’t forget a twist in a road you’ve driven down before. Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu make a pretty landscape portrait, but they don’t divert your attention from a switchback you’re used to following. While the new background might make you wish the old road had some of the pot holes fixed, or perhaps ventured off in a new direction toward an untapped spring, you find yourself ultimately content to stare at the changing setting and navigate on autopilot, remembering what the road looked like in years past. Like in 2003 when it looked like Confidence, or in 1995 when it looked like The Usual Suspects, or all the way back to 1973, when it was The Sting. You might recall Leon, The Professional (1994) at times on Route Slevin. Which might bring you all the way back to good old Paper Moon; where you see that curious relationship between characters with substantial age differences set in morally compromising situations. Age is a theme in Lucky Number Slevin, a changing of the guard between Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and Slevin (Josh Hartnett). But, watching Hartnett at the end of the movie slowly descend the same stairway Morgan Freeman did at the beginning gives the viewer a sense of the difference between innovation and reproduction. Morgan Freeman walks down the stairway as if weightless; a mind boggling testament to that immeasurable concept of presence. Hartnett, while sleek, sexy, and just as tall, doesn’t have that same timeless presence. Freeman even casts his shadow on the equally prolific Ben Kingsley in Lucky Number Slevin. Kinglsey, playing virtually the same roll as Freeman in the movie, seems stuck somewhere between his character in Sexy Beast (2000) and Gandhi (1982). If you’ve seen any of these movies I’ve mentioned in this article, the weak parts of Lucky Number Slevin will probably be apparent but not entirely detrimental to your viewing experience. If you haven’t seen any of the movies I’ve mentioned you’re definitely in for a few good surprises and a pretty good movie with a great title.