Unlucky Number ‘Slevin’

Quentin Tarantino has ruined the cinema.

Yes, with his wildly popular 1994 crime opus “Pulp Fiction” he blew open the floodgates for independent filmmakers in the mid-90s and jump-started an otherwise torpid American film market. But as with all messiahs and revolutionaries, the great leader brought with him lesser followers – filmmakers satisfied only to emulate Tarantino’s warped stories from the underground and snappy style of writing.

Case in point: Jason Smilovic, screenwriter of the new Josh Hartnett vehicle “Lucky Number Slevin” (The Weinstein Co.). Smilovic’s own career began on the waves that Tarantino started. What Smilovic didn’t keep in mind while penning “Slevin,” unfortunately, is that the problem with Tarantino’s inimitable dialog is just that: the dialog cannot be duplicated without feeling like a faded Xerox copy. Much like getting toner on one’s fingertips, “Slevin’s” supposedly snarky and clever tone leaves no impression other than “Damn, that’s annoying.”

“Slevin” follows its hapless titular character, played by Hartnett, as he becomes a pawn in a power play between two rival crime bosses played by actors of a far higher caliber than this film allows them to reach: the Boss (Morgan Freeman) and the Rabbi (Sir Ben Kingsley). Improbably located directly across the street from each other, the two former-partners-turned-nemeses pit Slevin, mistaken for someone else, against each other. The Boss wishes for Slevin to kill the Rabbi’s son, thus avenging his own son’s death, and the Rabbi wishes for Slevin to retrieve a large sum of money.

Perhaps most infuriating about this conceit is Smilovic’s willingness to acknowledge its pastiche nature in the screenplay. Just when the wrong-man-on-the-run story’s root couldn’t be any more transparent, to whom does Slevin allude? That’s right; Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.”

Add a ruthless assassin (Bruce Willis, content to appear rather than act); an inexplicably angry detective (Stanley Tucci); and a coroner conveniently located across the hall from Slevin’s apartment (Lucy Liu, who shares about as much onscreen charisma with Hartnett as Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen in the “Star Wars” prequels; that is to say, none); and the result is the impossibly sloppy and derivative mess that is “Slevin.” n

“Lucky Number Slevin” hits theaters nationwide Friday.

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