Lottery Ticket (review)

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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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Laurie Mann
Fri, Aug 20, 2010 12:10pm

I do play the lottery, but only because I know I’d be very amused if I won huge amounts of money. But I know, statistically, the $35 a won a few years back may be the biggest “jackpot” I ever get. Amusement factor only!

The trailer for “Lottery Ticket” was enough to convince me not to see the movie. I’m sorry you had to for professional reasons!

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 12:30pm

This movie looks like it’s the cinematic equivalent of BET — it’s what you end up with when you target a specific demographic (as BET does) rather than concentrating on just coming up with a good story.

I wonder what Tyler Perry thinks about this sort of thing?

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 1:41pm

I have to disagree with the notion that you can’t make a good product by catering to a demographic. This has more to do with the fact that , as an industry, Hollywood often has a very stilted view of those demographics.

There actually was a critic of Tyler Perry interviewed on NPR a couple of months ago who leveled that very accusation at him.

I think another good example is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Watching that movie felt like watching a commercial for Disney, and aimed at nerds. The protagonist was a stereotyped gawky science wiz who could talk to girls and had self esteem issues. The main character was a Tesla coil.

I think what goes on with these sort of movies is that the people making them think that appealing to a demographic allows them to save cost on writing talent, in a addition to giving them some idea of the profits they can expect.

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 3:46pm


Here’s one question I’d like answered, then: What percentage of the people who go to see this movie are white? And how does that compare to movie audiences in general?

(These are not racist questions, by the way — I’m simply curious to know how movie attendance is affected when a movie is perceived to be a “black movie”, i.e., a movie with very few [if any] non-black characters which was written and/or directed by blacks. [I have reviewed the cast list on IMDb and these assertions are factually correct.])

And how would it compare, on a box-office basis, to a similar movie which covers the same situation (i.e., a young man wins the lottery and must protect his winning ticket for a few days while various antics occur) but with a non-black cast and the scenarios adjusted to fit a different paradigm (e.g., not in South Central or an urban Atlanta neighborhood)? Would the non-black version of Lottery Ticket make more or less money than this version?