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Lottery Ticket: The perils of good fortune

Brandon T. Jackson as Benny and Bow Wow as Kevin Carson in a scene from Lottery Ticket.

David Lee/Warner Bros.

2 out of 4 stars

Country
USA
Language
English

Lottery Ticket

  • Directed by Erik White
  • Screenplay by Abdul Williams
  • Starring Bow Wow, Brandon T. Jackson, Naturi Naughton, Ice Cube, Loretta Devine, Charlie Murphy, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Keith David

What would you do if you won a $370-million jackpot? That's the question on everyone's mind in the Fillmore Housing Community - everyone except recent high school grad Kevin Carson who, on a whim, plays what turn out to be the winning numbers in the entertaining, if highly predictable, escapist ensemble comedy Lottery Ticket.

If movies have taught us anything, it's that sudden fortune can lead to a heap of trouble. Early classics such as Erich von Stroheim's masterful Greed (1924) and the Frank Capra favourite Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) set the gold standard. And through the decades, "windfall" movies have proven reliable vehicles to reveal truths about human nature, either through dramas about moral decay or screwball comedies.

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Big-screen newcomers Erik White and Abdul Williams don't reinvent the wheel of fortune in Lottery Ticket, but the director and screenwriter, respectively, deliver a well-plotted, energetically paced story that unfolds over the July 4th long weekend. The holiday means our hero must survive an onslaught of gold-diggers and thugs until he can turn in his winning ticket Tuesday morning.

The neighbourhood is loaded up with stock characters - in particular Kevin's church-going grandmother (Loretta Devine), a gangster boss (Keith David) and a reclusive old boxer (Ice Cube) who hears everything that's going down in the 'hood via his basement-apartment air vent. But engaging performances by a winning cast make for a more than tolerable long weekend.

Lottery Ticket delivers a worthy winner in Kevin, a responsible young man who has put aside his dreams of becoming a clothing designer to support himself and his grandmother working as a shoe store sales clerk. He's played by former teen rap star Bow Wow - he's convincing as a youth with good heart and street smarts who's not completely immune to temptation. After reluctantly accepting a $100,000 "advance" from a dapper local crime boss, Kevin lavishes gifts on his posse of friends and heads out on the town with the sexiest girl on the block - only to discover later that night she wants to make a baby to secure a life of luxury.

Along for the ride is Kevin's childhood friend Benny, played by Brandon T. Jackson, who channels a bit of the annoying but likable smart-aleck protector he played earlier this year in Percy Jackson & The Olympians. When Kevin narrowly escapes an attempt by Lorenzo ( The Wire's Gbenga Akinnagbe), a local thug, to steal the ticket, Benny offers to hold it. Suspicious of almost everyone now, Kevin turns to Stacie (Naturi Naughton), the girl next door whose earthy beauty, warmth and intelligence put him back on course - that is, until Lorenzo knocks him out and nabs the unsigned ticket.

The comedy in Lottery Ticket is more "light" than "screwball," save for an outrageous Sunday sermon by a charismatic preacher (Michael Epps), who shows his congregation a slide show of the magnificent cathedral, mansion and gorgeous future wife God intends him to have, knowing Kevin is captive in the pews.

Lottery Ticket's appealing vibe is marred only by a violent showdown between Kevin and the bad guys at the Independence Day neighbourhood BBQ. It's as if the filmmakers suddenly decide to inject some reality into what is essentially a fantasy, being that the movie is set in the projects and all. It's a false note, but it's certainly not jarring enough to turn this retro windfall comedy into a loser.

Special to the Globe and Mail

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