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Lucky Number Sleven
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Once you get past the annoying title that strains at cleverness and misses, ‘‘Lucky Number Slevin’’ proves to be an engaging crime romp, even though it aims so hard at wily misdirection you fear the actors may pull some muscles as they bob and weave.
Reteaming with Josh Hartnett, the star of his dreary misfire ‘‘Wicker Park,’’ director Paul McGuigan manages a brisk tale of bad guys pulling fast ones on each other. The film’s convolutions will keep audiences guessing without taxing their brains too much or stretching credibility.
The movie’s biggest flaw is that in the end, it makes things too easy, too pat, for viewers. McGuigan and screenwriter Jason Smilovic spend a breathless 90 minutes playing their gimmicks and setting up their surprises, then linger far too long explaining every little detail so no one leaves the theater with an eyebrow raised quizzically, wondering what this scene or that moment meant.
Buoyed by one of the most personable performances Hartnett has yet delivered and backed by excellent support from Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu and Stanley Tucci, ‘‘Slevin’’ generally overcomes its long-winded finale and the filmmakers’ insatiable need to show how devious they are.
The film opens with a rash of bloody executions, then meanders through endless shifts in identity and loyalty among crooks as the consequences of those murders play out years later.
Misidentified by thugs as a man who owes cash to mobsters, the fast-talking Slevin (Hartnett) is introduced to the Rabbi (Kingsley) and the Boss (Freeman), crime lords who once were fast partners but now carry on a bloody rivalry from their sanctuaries atop high-rise buildings across the street from each other.
Caught up in the Boss and Rabbi’s game of vengeance and assassination, Slevin is pursued by a scheming police detective (Tucci), stalked by an ace hit man (Willis) and aided by a chipper new romantic acquaintance (Liu).
Who everyone really is, how they fit together and why they do what they do is revealed in sneakily logical manner by Smilovic and director McGuigan, who here makes a worthy successor to his explosive British crime thriller ‘‘Gangster No. 1.’’
Early on, the movie introduces its central theme with an anecdote explaining the ‘‘Kansas City Shuffle,’’ a con term about making people look one way then dashing the other, so you can carry out your dirty deeds when no one’s watching.
It’s not a great title, but ‘‘Kansas City Shuffle’’ would have been better than ‘‘Lucky Number Slevin,’’ which feels like a clunky mouthful even though it’s easy to pronounce.
‘‘Slevin’’ may prompt people to pause and wonder if it’s a typo, which could be what the filmmakers want. The trouble is that anyone pausing to think about the title probably will conclude what a stinking bad name it is for a movie.
Luckily for Slevin and the audience, the film presents a decent enough dose of action, suspense, twists and darkly humorous dialogue spouted from characters with some real moxie in their makeup.
We’re not in Tarantino country with ‘‘Lucky Number Slevin.’’ But you can see it from here.w

‘Lucky Number Sleven’
‰ Rated: R strong violence, sexuality and language
‰ How long: 110 minutes
‰ Stars: Two and a half stars out of four

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