Lucky Number Slevin

A saucy thriller

"I'm a world-class assassin, F---head," exclaims Brice Willis's Mr. Goodkat to hero Josh Hartnett's Slevin, a young man the target of mobsters in a classic case of mistaken identity. Willis has a minimalist charm that makes him everybody's hit man, as cool as any hood coming out of the tongue-in-cheek school of Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, or North by Northwest. In fact, he survives quite well working for both sides of two warring New York gangster clans. He describes the catalytic event for the story as a "Kansas City shuffle," a gambling term hinting at the reversals of almost every scene in this riff on film noir wrapped in a stylish con awkardly called Lucky Number Slevin.

When the crime bosses are played by Morgan Freeman and Sir Ben Kingsley, it would seem futile for Hartnett to go nose to nose with those thespian icons. But he does successfully. The script calls for underplaying the violence and irony and for a light-hearted delivery contrasting the murders while playing with the girl next door, charmingly acted by Lucy Liu as Lindsey.

Just as playful is cinematographer Christopher Sova's color scheme, with enough variety to make the wildest Asian dp jealous. On the other hand, Joshua Ralph's original music is unenviable.

Lucky Number Slevin was a selection for the 2006 Sundance Film Festival but not a thunderous winner. Then again, its smug, self-reflective wit, lost in the resolution of the film but everywhere else Slevin has a chance to shoot off his mouth, may be overdone. Even starry-eyed Park-City visitors are smart enough to spy a phony.

But then, like The Usual Suspects, nothing is as it seems in this saucy thriller, so just sit back and enjoy the twists--hardly in the Memento league--some of which you can see coming and others amusingly a surprise.