Lottery Ticket (review)

Losing Combination

Kevin (rapper Bow Wow: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Roll Bounce) doesn’t play the lottery, because he thinks it’s “designed to keep poor people poor by selling them false dreams.” So why does he buy a lottery ticket anyway? Because he couldn’t win $370 million if he hadn’t, and there would be no movie if he didn’t, silly! This bizarre bit of inexplicable screenwriting does also serve another purpose: it is perhaps the best explanation for the existence of this crass excuse for a comedy: it’s wish fulfillment to keep the American underclass from revolting for another week.
Newbie screenwriters Erik White and Abdul Williams (music video director White is also making his feature debut) could have elected to not have Kevin disparage lottery-playing, but I suspect that this reality-based approach to the dollar-and-a-dream lottery philosophy is meant to, er, keep it real. It’s not some silly ninny, like Kevin’s grandma (Loretta Devine: Death at a Funeral, First Sunday), who wins, even though she plays every week and appears to believe that Jesus wants her to win. It’s honest, hardworking, cleancut Kevin, who irons his shoelaces before he goes to work at FootLocker and is putting off his dreams of design school — he wants to design sneakers — because he’s gotta take care of his grandmother.

See? You too, you hardworking, non-lottery-playing serious person… you could win $370 million if only you took a chance once in a while. And you probably wouldn’t even have to put up with the crap that Kevin puts up with after Grandma can’t keep her mouth shut about the win and the entire population of the Atlanta projects where he lives is suddenly descending upon Kevin, desperate for a slice of his good fortune. For, in an unlikely confluence of calendar coincidence, Kevin wins the lottery at the beginning of a long Fourth of July weekend — meaning that he has to hold onto that winning ticket and not get murdered for it or otherwise tricked into sharing his fortune until the lottery office opens again after the holiday, three long days away. And yet, despite the fact that, we’re told, Kevin is supposed to be smart and creative enough to have gotten into design school, the best idea for protecting the ticket he can come up with is “carrying it around in his wallet.” Perhaps White and Williams intend it as sly commentary on the breakdown of the African-American community that there is no one Kevin can trust to safeguard the ticket for him — not a neighborhood lawyer or community police office, not a priest or a preacher — but I don’t think so. Perhaps it would not occur to a poor kid from the projects to go to a bank and open a safe deposit box, and perhaps all the banks are already closed for the holiday. But Kevin could have, I dunno, FedExed the ticket to himself. There might be some risk involved in that, but not much, and certainly nothing like what he faces this weekend.

But again, if Kevin had been smart, there would be no movie… and no excuse for White and Williams to wallow in the worst sorts of crude stereotypes for reasons only they can know. Kevin is threatened with grievous bodily harm by Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe: Edge of Darkness, The Taking of Pelham 123), a generic thug who terrorizes the projects, if Kevin doesn’t hand over the ticket. Kevin is threatened with baby-daddyhood by hottie Nikki (Teairra Mari), because “a bitch has gotta get paid.” And it’s all “hilarious,” the movie keeps insisting.

It isn’t hilarious: it’s obnoxious. These people aren’t people: they’re cartoon characters, including Kevin’s idiot best friend, Benny (Brandon T. Jackson: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Tooth Fairy), his perfect and pretty friend who’s a girl but not a girlfriend, Stacie (Naturi Naughton: Notorious), and Mr. Washington (Ice Cube: First Sunday, Are We Done Yet?), the recluse of the projects who turns out to be as wise and as helpful as Yoda when the moment demands it. How they behave goes beyond cartoonish: From Kevin’s consumeristic orgy at the mall, which includes the purchase of $5,000 sneakers, to the outing at the fancy-schmancy restaurant where Kevin’s friends steal silverware — hey, that’s what poor people do, even after they’ve won the lottery — the stereotypes descend into the downright disgusting. And at the finale, violence solves all of Kevin’s problems.

I’m still presuming Lottery Ticket is meant to fulfill pleasant wishes, not the kind you wouldn’t send toward your worst enemy. Maybe I’m wrong about that…

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