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Entries in Lottery Ticket [2010] (1)


Lottery Ticket [2010]

What are the Odds?

It’s not hard to see why Lottery Ticket has made zero impact—and almost as much money—on the box office.  The trailer is so dreadful as to be an anti-marketing tool.  But I went opening weekend because I mistakenly thought The Last Exorcism had been released a week early, and I needed something new to watch in its stead.

Thank God for prejudice.  Lottery Ticket is the kind of movie that needs to be seen by audiences that will write it off as just another lowest-common-denominator urban comedy, like Next Friday or Soul Plane.  I certainly expected ninety minutes of weed and fart jokes, stereotypes of the White Oppressor, and the glorification of money, fame and sex in a tattered-city setting (come to think of it, that’s every Kevin Smith movie—minus the pop-cult repartee).  What I watched, though, was a smart, touching film whose wobbly balance of comedy and social commentary are almost impossible to sell to a mass audience.

You can tell most of the plot and its trajectory by looking at the movie poster.  Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) is a recent high school graduate working at a Foot Locker.  He dreams of getting out of his poor neighborhood and becoming a sneaker designer.  One day, his grandmother (Loretta Devine) sends him to the store to buy a lottery ticket; while digging in his pocket, Kevin finds a fortune cookie fortune and decides to play the “lucky numbers” printed on the back as a lark; though he’d previously espoused the evils of the lottery to his friends as a mechanism for giving poor people false hope, he figured the $370 million jackpot was too good to pass up.  No points for guessing that he wins.

Kevin convinces grandma to keep the prize a secret until after he’s had a chance to redeem the ticket.  This proves difficult, as the state lottery office is closed during the long Fourth of July weekend.  Kevin and his best friend, Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), return home to find that grandma let the word out to the neighborhood gossip, Semaj (Charlie Murphy), and now everyone knows about the money.

We’ve seen this movie before.  There’s the obligatory tough-guy-just-out-of-prison who wants the money; the previously unattainable hot girl who vies for Kevin’s attention with the cute best friend whom he doesn’t know exists, romantically; the be-suited drug kingpin who presides over the ‘hood with quiet, smiling menace; the wild and crazy preacher; and what would a teen-wealth fantasy be without a shopping montage?

What sets lottery ticket apart is the way it treats these characters as real people, and not just set-ups for plot points and bad jokes.  Screenwriter Abdul Williams and co-writer/director Erik White have worked in some real surprises here, mostly shocking turns of menace that remind the audience of just how dangerous it is to have more than a quarter-billion dollars wafting around an impoverished neighborhood.  Kevin’s lottery ticket brings out a power struggle in the community’s underworld, and it becomes evident really quickly that sometimes guns are no match for desperation.

Details like these keep Lottery Ticket from growing stale.  Yes, Ice Cube shows up as the reclusive neighbor who hasn’t left his garden-level apartment in thirty years; but his story—and the lessons one can learn from it—are truly touching and interesting; as is the relationship between Kevin and Benny.  Benny dresses like a thug and carries himself like a clown, but it becomes apparent that this is the camouflage he feels he needs to mask his underlying intelligence and sensitivity in order to survive.

There’s a glaring exception, though, in the form of Doug (Chris Williams), Kevin’s boss at the Foot Locker.  For whatever reason, the filmmakers decided to have Williams perform the part as a race-reversed Amos & Andy routine; Williams is black, but plays the part with such exaggerated whiteness that I actually got offended (in the same way that I hope black audiences take offense to any item on Chris Tucker’s filmography).

What makes this even more jarring is the appearance of Doug’s supervisor, Carl (Mike Pniewski)—an actual white guy in a position of authority, who talks like an actual human being.  I don’t know if this was some kind of commentary on the part of White and Williams—but it falls flat and makes the movie live down to its trailer for several minutes.

I’m going to get a lot of flak for recommending Lottery Ticket—by people who will avoid it and, likely, by people who’ve seen it (all three of you).  I acknowledge that it’s a flawed picture where not everything works.  But I’m willing to bet that anyone who gives the movie a chance will at least appreciate the fact that it’s not the racist farce it’s being marketed as.  Rather, it’s an offbeat drama (with some funny situations—genuinely funny; not ironic or failed funny) that promotes social responsibility and values that go beyond just getting out of the ‘hood.