Nobody Wins With This 'Lottery Ticket'
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Perhaps in an alternate universe there exists an iteration of this movie that's as funny, engaging, wise, and heart-tugging as the one currently under review clearly wants to be. After all, in theory, a comedy in which the appealing one-time boy rapper Bow Wow plays a projects striver whose possession of a winning lottery ticket that he won't be able to cash in for a few days causes all sorts of comic complications, should not have had to be as all sorts of not-very-good that the version playing in our world is. But alas, despite the multiple available charms of its sprawling cast, "Lottery Ticket" is a film that's largely wealthy in incoherence, raising a smile one minute and a cringe the next, until it finally devolves into a "who-cares" cliché-fest.
The culprits include the script by Abdul Williams, from a story by Williams and the film's director, Erik White, the charges against whom will be specified in a little bit. The scenario has young Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) an enterprising kid who works hard and eschews games of chance ("The lottery is designed to keep people poor by selling them false dreams," he pronounces early on), giving in and buying one ticket to a multiple-hundreds-of-millions lottery drawing. And of course that one ticket hits, only it hits on Fourth of July weekend. During which the local lottery office is closed for the holiday, which means Kevin has to duck new fake friends (and gold-digging would-be girlfriends), mean local hoods, and slick upscale criminals until he can bring this ship safely into port, provide for his feisty grandmother, and "give back" to his struggling African-American community. Now I'm usually one of the last people to complain about plausibility as it's defined in its most prosaic sense -- I say let a storyteller have his imaginative head -- but really. The notion that in our media-saturated, money-mad age, the holder of a $300-million-plus winning lottery ticket would be obliged to cool his heels in obscurity until a representative from a local government bureaucracy or some such could be put back to work, or something like that, is rather patently ridiculous. It'd be something less so had the film displayed any aspirations to function as a fable, but no. It's a really weak premise that the filmmakers merely assume you're going to buy. And you might ... again, under different circumstances. But director White, who's a veteran of music videos, seems not to be capable of making a film.
I kind of mean that literally. Despite his and cinematographer Patrick Cady's fondness for ghetto-lyrical shots like the silhouette of sneakers hanging from a phone line at dusk (and this image does look nice, as do other such compositions), the actual rudiments of competent film storytelling seem beyond White's grasp. Simple dialogue scenes are riff with mismatched reverse shots. Amiable exchanges have their flows stampeded by the encroachment of a stray beat that wants to be wildly comical -- a blare of sassy hip-hop accompanying a shot of a fine young thang's butt, say -- coming out of almost literally nowhere. And failing at being wildly comical. And so on. At first one might think, "Well, there are some literal gaffes and a few bad judgments happening," but the ineptitude turns out to be one of the film's few constants.
White displays an equally infuriating hand in dealing with his talented cast. Looking at the roster of names, you'd think you had another "Friday" on your hands, really, given the varied capabilities of the talents assembled. And again, no. Bow Wow's fun to watch, but Brandon T. Jackson, so good and frantic as the hapless Alpa Chino in the Hollywood spoof "Tropic Thunder," is surprisingly rote here playing the Eddie-Haskellish, but not so bad at heart, cohort of Kevin. Charlie Murphy, who's often a very funny man, is similarly flat as the project's gossip hound. On the other hand, Mike Epps walks away with a small role as a preacher with big plans on how to use Kevin's money, Keith David and Terry Crews enjoy themselves as tough guys, and Faheem Najm makes a small but tasty meal of his role as the thoroughly opinionated owner of the store where Kevin buys his ticket. The film's executive producer, Ice Cube, who, you'll recall, had been in "Friday" before perpetrating such more questionable cinematic fare as "Are We There Yet?" turns up playing an older, eccentric resident of the project, and while his performance isn't exactly in the Daniel Day-Lewis league of transformation, it's pretty impressive. Would have been very nice to see him pull it off in a better movie than this one.
Glenn Kenny is a writer living in Brooklyn. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com.