The Usual Suspects

It's nearly impossible to tell what's going on during much of Lucky Number Slevin and, curiously enough, that's when the movie is at its best. The film's thoroughly cryptic and convoluted first half is one long, self-consciously clever riddle — and, frankly, it may drive you a little crazy as it's unfolding. But once the puzzle starts coming together, and the movie morphs from quirky tease to numbing seriousness, Lucky Number Slevin reveals itself as another classic case of less than meets the eye.

But for almost an hour, there's a lot of stylish fun to be had here. Director Paul McGuigen and screenwriter Jason Smilovic pile on the twists and turns in a case of mistaken identity that involves a pair of feuding gangsters (Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley), a hired assassin (Bruce Willis) and the poor slob who finds himself caught in the middle of it all (Josh Hartnett, who spends much of the movie's first half being dragged around in a bath towel).

Smilovic, clearly a graduate of the Quentin Tarantino School of Screenwriting, overloads the film with archly self-aware dialogue and pop culture references, then places his characters in a world where the sensationalistic becomes bizarrely mundane and the mundane is so exaggerated that it begins to feel almost surreal. The whole thing is boiled down into a baroque stew of labyrinthine plotting and cleverer-than-thou wordplay that promise the world but fizzle out fast and hard well before the finish line. Also stars Lucy Liu.

Lucky Number Slevin (R) opens April 7 at local theaters. 3 stars

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