Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is not having a good day. Observing that bad things happen to him in threes, he has been fired from his job, evicted from his condemned apartment, found his girlfriend cheating on him and has been. When his friend’s neighbor Lindsey (Lucy Liu) points out that that’s more than three incidents of bad luck, he merely shrugs and says that he’s “on a roll.” Mistaken for someone with a large gambling debt for each of the two bosses, Slevin’s luck is about to worsen as he soon finds himself embroiled in a conflict between two rival mob bosses- The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). Meanwhile, a hired killer (Bruce Willis) is lurking in the shadows, seemingly working for both mob bosses.
Lucky Number Slevin is a stylish thriller that just may be a bit too stylish for its own good. The characters don’t discuss things, they wittily banter, saying things like “I’m on both sides of the fence and the grass is always green.” Another exchange goes on for an excruciatingly long time as Slevin and one of the mob bosses get into an exchange answering each other’s questions with more questions. The attempt at stylized dialogue ultimately comes off as a self-conscious attempt on the part of screenwriter Jason Smilovic to out do stylized writers like Quentin Tarantino than establish a unique, distinctive voice for the movie.
The story has numerous plot holes, chief of which is one of the mob bosses entrusting Slevin, who we are told has no experience with guns, to kill the son of his rival. Although the story moves along at a brisk pace, the film almost grinds to a halt near the end when it takes almost ten minutes to explain a late plot twist. The plot is also a mishmash of several influences which the film proudly wears on its sleeve, reflexively name dropping mistaken-identity films like North By Northwest.
The actors make the best out of the script they are given, with Kingsley and Freeman providing sterling work as former friends turned enemies. Stanley Tucci also delivers a good performance as a police detective investigating the mob bosses, while Liu provides energy to a role that serves as nothing more than provide story exposition when the plot demands it. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves, and it is this energy that helps keep the audience engaged in the film, long after script logic flies out the window.