A quirky, bloody, vengeful, unfulfilling dark comedy.
A young man named Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is discovered in the apartment of a friend by his friend’s neighbor (Lucy Liu). After she leaves, two men collect Slevin (mistaking him to be apartment owner) and take him to see “The Boss” (Morgan Freeman), who offers to let Slevin work off a debt he doesn’t owe by killing the son of a rival boss called “The Rabbi” (Sir Ben Kingsley). After returning Slevin to his apartment, two more men collect Slevin (again mistaking him for his buddy) and take him to see The Rabbi, who tells Slevin he also owes money to him and will give him two days to pay off the money. Back again at the apartment, Slevin’s friend’s concerned neighbor hears the entire story before telling him that she saw Slevin and someone else, a mystery man (Bruce Willis) who presumably knows both The Boss and The Rabbi. Then she asks the question we’re all asking ourselves: what’s he going to do about it?
If all of that sounds complicated, it actually gets more complicated as it goes. Unfortunately, a lack very many characters limits the plot into a very few possibilites, so it isn’t too terribly difficult to figure out for anyone that watches these kinds of mystery thrillers. Also, while the pedigree cast was enjoyable to watch, no actor or actress in the film is doing anything you haven’t seen them do before, so there’s no real surprises or outstanding performances. And it’s rated R, so there’s also blood splatter and a bit of random nudity.
So what does Slevin have going for it? After complexity, pedigree, gratuity, it just doesn’t seem terribly special, as if the actors walked through their parts and picked up a paycheck. Slevin does feel like someone pet project, their penultimate thriller of double-cross and vengeance, but what comes across in the final edit turns from quirky comedy to bloddy gloomy right up until the very last frame. Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it, but unlike last year’s Sin City, there just isn’t much satisfaction for the journey taken.
Is it possible that everyone in the production is too cool and too laid back to be taken seriously? Would it have been too much to ask that somebody really got mad at somebody else and showed a little real emotion? The last time I felt this way was watching the film Very Bad Things, a twisted dark comedy where no one is excluded from fate or irony. While Slevin isn’t anywhere near as depressing, it does parallel the overall feeling of, “Well, I’ve seen it, but I’m not sure I’d really want to see it again or wish it anyone else.” Technically perfect but wholly uninteresting; for the same idea without all the complications and with a much more satisfying conclusion, try Mel Gibson’s Payback (and get Lucy Liu thrown in again for free).
(a two skull recommendation out of four)