It`s hard out there for a kid from the projects who scores a $370 million lottery payoff, but must wait for the claim office to reopen (infernal federal holiday!). Suddenly he is pursued by “a premature crack-baby felon” straight out of prison and willing — eager, in fact — to kill for the ticket. Not to mention the notorious local Jezebel interested in the young man’s company.
This is the premise of Lottery Ticket, an ensemble comedy from a pair of firsttime feature filmmaking collaborators, screenwriter Abdul Williams and director Erik White. You know what? This movie’s good. It’s fast, deftly paced and funny, and only some misjudged violence in the last lap keeps it from being better than good.
One foot in fantasyland, the other in the real world, the picture isn’t out for anything except laughs, plus a little astute sociology. Virtually everyone on screen knows where to find those laughs, how to deliver them and how hard to push them — i.e., not hard enough to tire us out before the leading character learns of his scary stroke of luck.
The film was shot in Atlanta but the locale is Any Project, USA. Director White (who has done scads of videos) navigates, fluidly, the ins and outs and denizens of this sprawling development. Protagonist Kevin, played by Bow Wow, lives with his grandmother (Loretta Devine). His best friend, Benny (Brandon T. Jackson) doesn’t understand why Kevin takes the time to help out the mysterious recluse (Ice Cube, who also executive-produced) who lives in the basement. “Dude has slave dust on him,” he mutters.
In the opening scenes, lottery fever has hit the entire neighborhood, and Kevin, a Foot Locker employee who dreams of attending design school, expresses disdain for any racket “designed to keep poor people poor.” Upon learning he has won millions, he becomes a conflicted soul up for grabs. He must survive the next three days to cash in; as a bridge “loan” he takes a satchel of bills from the local mobster (Keith David) and goes on a tear with his cronies. On the fly, we hear throwaway lines such as Benny’s pickup attempt: “I need a girl I can take to church and the strip clubs.” It’s not polite, it’s not high-minded and it sticks to various formulas, but Lottery Ticket plays into the strengths of its prodigiously talented cast.
And then it sort of dies near the end. The increasing focus on sociopath Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is sour and frightening in a non-comic way, and I really do wish the filmmakers could rethink the grimly prolonged shot of Akinnagbe squeezing David’s nethers. Also I would rethink the sound effect cue in this bit; some are just plain wrong.
I was perfectly happy keeping time with everybody else in Lottery Ticket, notably the two leads (whose friendship is tested by the sudden arrival of millions) and Kevin’s childhood pal, played by Naturi Naughton, as sincere and easygoing as Mike Epps is hilarious in his cameo as a selfinterested Baptist minister, with one eye on his flock and the other on a future financed by the reluctant, newly wealthy “Moses of the projects.” Epps’ few minutes of screen time score. And then the movie dashes onward.
—MCT, Tribune Media Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org