Friday, April 14, 2006

Lucky Number Slevin

This one sort of begs that question - is all art, or are all movies, derivative? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing? I've heard all sorts of dismissive reviews of this movie - it's lightweight; it's not as good as its predecessors; it thinks it's smarter than it is, etc. It is lightweight, and based on the art direction, I think that's intentional; it may not be as good as some of its predecessors (The Usual Suspects jumps to mind), but it is surely better than most (so forgettable, I've forgotten them); and part of its charm lies in its sure-footed arrogance.

If you are willing to be entertained, to relax into a universe where everyone lives with hallucinogenic wall-paper and lamps shaped like bongs designed by Jonathan Adler show up everywhere, to experience Morgan Freeman and Sir Benjamin Kingsley playing kingpin shut-ins, then this movie fits the bill.

I enjoyed my two hours in this world, inhabited by characters and caricatures, nicely played by Bruce Willis, Freeman and Kingsley, Lucy Liu, Stanley Tucci, and a particularly well-suited Josh Hartnett, heretofore not high on my list of favorites. The pacing is brisk, the dialog snappy, and the story hangs together; watch carefully from the beginning and, being well trained after "The Usual Suspects" and The Sixth Sense, you will catch the clues that build the ending brick by brick.

So, to answer my question - sort of - most movies are dependent on the legacy of film that came before. How, really, could it be otherwise? I was re-watching Mission Impossible II (dir by John Woo) the other night - a movie I love to watch - check the (not-so) small nod to Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief in the car chase scene between Tom and Thandie at the beginning. Besides the obvious sports-car-on-a-twisty-mountain-road-with-no-guardrails wink, there is also a great full-screen close-up of Thandie's high-heel sandaled feet shifting gears - a nearly picture-perfect quotation of Hitchcock's close-up of Grace Kelly's feet during that famous drive. What is derivative, what is respctful, and what is just plain bad? That's like asking whether vanilla or chocolate tastes better.

So do I think Lucky Number Slevin a great movie in the pantheon? No. But a good watch? Absolutely. And these days, that's no small shakes.