Instead of comedy jackpot, moderate rewards
Oh, the places you’d go with a Powerball jackpot of $370 million. And oh, the creeps and crazies who’d come crowding around to tag along with you. The makers of “Lottery Ticket’’ have a handle on the crawling-out-of-the-woodwork part, as they populate their comedy with flamboyant figures who, stereotypical as they may be, at least help us roll with the movie’s cheerful-projects setting. But when it comes to cash-infusion kookiness, your average MTV “Cribs’’ episode flashes more imagination.
Bow Wow is all youthful agreeability as Kevin, a nice guy who spends his days hanging with a motormouth named Benny (Brandon T. Jackson) and a good-girl named Stacie (Naturi Naughton, “Notorious’’). Kevin runs the usual gantlet of colorful neighborhood characters as he futilely tries to punch in on time at the local
He encounters more trouble when he balks at a demand for free footwear from a scary parolee named Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe, “The Wire’’). Then Kevin plays the lottery, and when his numbers hit, Lorenzo sees something else he wants. Pretty soon others are following suit, and wouldn’t you know it’s Fourth of July weekend, which means Kevin has to find a way to hang onto his ticket and his health for three whole days until the lottery commission office reopens.
There are some amusing looks at the elation — and panic — that come with winning big, from the praise-Jesus swooning of Kevin’s grandma (underutilized Loretta Devine) to Benny’s plan to escape their grabby neighbors using a history-class Underground Railroad map. Ice Cube is fun to watch as a grizzled shut-in with some cantankerously sage advice to give. But, despite all the signposts indicating comedic excess ahead, director Erik White (best known for helming music videos) never really delivers. Kevin has old-school gangsters (Keith David and Terry Crews) and a gospel preacher (Mike Epps) reach into his pockets, he goes on a shopping spree, and he runs around dodging Lorenzo and his buddies. Routine silliness.
White and writer Abdul Williams are determined to squeeze in some social commentary. And while this, too, is mostly familiar stuff, a couple of bits do resonate. An argument between Kevin and Benny over the need to give back to the community is competently acted but heavy-handed. More effective is the underplayed moment that caps a wacky-sexy bedroom scene between Kevin and a gold-digging hottie (Teairra Mari) who’s turned off when he just says no to getting her pregnant. “A [girl’s] gotta get paid,’’ she huffs, gesturing to her lingerie-model body. “And this is my lottery ticket.’’ It’s a near-throwaway that’s actually sharper than any laugh the movie delivers.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.