Lottery Ticket (PG-13)
After a teen and his grandmother win the lottery they have to keep the ticket safe for July 4th weekend until they can claim their prize in Lottery Ticket, a strange little dramady starring Bow Wow.
Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) lives with his grandma (Loretta Devine) in the housing projects of some unnamed city (one of the movie’s better sight gags suggests it’s in the South-ish). He has big dreams — his own sports shoe company — but for now he settles for helping his grandma pay the bills with a job at the Foot Locker, where he gazes longingly at a pair of custom Nikes and dreams about the even better versions he’d design. His platonic female friend Stacie (Naturi Naughton) urges him to follow her to college, design school perhaps, but even though Kevin feels stuck in his current situation, he isn’t following the crowds standing in line to buy a lottery ticket for the big $370 million drawing. That is until after the worst day at work ever — he is fired after a neighborhood thug, Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe), steals from the store and implies that Kevin is somehow involved. With no job and Lorenzo after him, Kevin stops by the convenience store to buy a ticket for his grandmother and gives in to the sales clerk’s suggestion that he buy one too, handing over a fortune cookie fortune with numbers on it.
When Kevin wakes up in the morning, he finds that his grandmother has lost but, after he sees a report on TV, he realizes that he has won. He attempts to swear his grandmother to secrecy and heads down to the lottery office to collect the prize. But it’s Saturday, Monday is July 4 and Kevin has to make it through three days carrying a ticket worth $370 million — piece of cake so long as nobody finds out.
Naturally, when he returns to the neighborhood, half the project is crowded in his grandmother’s apartment trying to make friends and telling him sad stories about medical bills.
Lottery Ticket is most surprising for what it isn’t — it’s not the big rollicking comedy the trailer makes you think it will be, kind of an It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World with the destination not a Big W but Tuesday morning. There are wacky characters — including a recluse played by Ice Cube, made up to look (and make me feel) some 25 years older — and skanky girls looking to make Kevin their baby daddy. But at its strange center, Lottery Ticket feels like an afterschool special or like one of those books about a kid who eats too much chocolate and learns a valuable lesson about excess via some magical transformation. There is even a pretty pointed “always wear a condom” lesson as well as a “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson and a demonstration of why credit is dangerous, particularly when it’s being given out by a gangster (Keith David), even if his driver (Terry Crews) is sort of a decent guy. And there is an inordinate amount of speechifying, some of it about loyalty, some of it about community spirit.
It’s an odd mix, the broad comedy and the serious message stuff. I understand why you can’t go all message — it would be like a 99-minute version of one of those Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints TV commercials from the 1980s. And all comedy can go all wrong very quickly if not deftly handled. But the movie needed a lighter touch on the message and a punch up to the comedy.
For all that, the characters manage to be kind of appealing. Kevin all but wears an “I’m a Good Role Model, Ask Me How” button throughout the movie but Bow Wow still makes him something like a normal 18-year-old suddenly handed extraordinary wealth. Ice Cube shows up like some elder statesman (Really, movie, gray hair? Was that necessary? I’m not that old.) but his scenes are probably some of the movie’s best. It feels like concept and cast were assembled with thought but then the filmmakers just kind of gave up, falling back on clichés and some lackluster good-for-you stuff to make the sub-sitcom-level comedy seem more important.
Perhaps Lottery Ticket needs its own afterschool special about the importance of stick-to-it-ness in script development. C
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language including a drug reference, some violence and brief underage drinking. Directed by Erik White and written by Whit and Abdul Williams, Lottery Ticket is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros. It opens in wide release on Friday, Aug. 20.