Taking the bare bones of The Ten Commandments and Romeo and Juliet this pedestrian tale explains the origins of Lucian (Michael Sheen) a “Lycan” (read: lycanthrope) who served the vicious vampire king Viktor (Bill Nighy) but would eventually lead a revolt of his fellow Lycans (read: slaves) after his illicit affair with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) was revealed. From this the war between vampires and werewolves would be waged for generations to come depicted in Underworld and Underworld: Evolution. Those unfamiliar with the previous films might be a little lost here and it’s highly unlikely that Rise of the Lycans will win many new fans to the franchise. With his glow-in-the-dark eyes and penchant for delivering every syllable with relish Nighy does his best to enliven things but there’s not much to work with -- and hamminess only goes so far. Sheen’s female fans may enjoy seeing him shaggy and occasionally shirtless but if The Queen and Frost/Nixon proved he’s capable of doing good work with good material this proves that at least he can cash in with bad material. Mitra who survived the rigors of Doomsday is fit and fetching here. But performances are not this movie’s strong suit. Very little is. This marks the directorial debut of award-winning production designer Patrick Tatopoulos (who also supervised the creature design) so it’s no surprise that the film is steeped in medieval atmosphere and loaded with CGI effects. Beyond that it’s a crashing bore -- even with the gore.
What starts out as a case of mistaken identity turns into a war between two of New York’s most rival crime bosses: The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). They both believe laid-back Slevin (Josh Hartnett) staying at his absent friend’s apartment is the guy who owes them money--and they both set about to make sure he pays them back one way or another. The happy-go-lucky girl next door (Lucy Liu) tries to help Slevin unravel the mystery but the whole mistaken identity thing gets him into even more hot water when a relentless detective (Stanley Tucci) hounds him--and an infamous assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis) tracks him. Looks like Slevin is going to have to come up with his own ingenious plot to get himself out of this fine mess he’s in. And I do mean ingenious. With character names such as “The Rabbi ” “The Boss ” “Goodkat ” and “The Girl Next Door” you know you’re in for some style over substance which is probably why the script attracted such a top-notch cast. Josh Hartnett (who starred in Slevin director Paul McGuigan’s weirdly romantic Wicker Park) tries something different as the affable Slevin a guy who seems pretty smooth on the surface but who has some seriously twisted ulterior motives. Liu also veers from her usual icy villainess to play Slevin’s kooky love interest bouncing all over the screen like a pinball. Willis revisits his Jackal character but adds a certain panache to the hit man role. And then there’s Kingsley and Freeman. As the Rabbi Kingsley deliciously chews things up while Freeman deftly plays his usual understated self as the Boss. When these two have their one and only confrontation the Oscar winners show us exactly what acting is all about. Lucky Number Slevin is a bit of an enigma. It starts off shaky. You feel like you’re watching something you’ve seen done a million times before: Mistaken identity quirky crime lords who want him dead the bumblin’ cop the hardened assassin. But in the capable hands of Scottish director Paul McGuigan(Gangster No. 1) things aren’t what they appear to be and soon you are thoroughly involved forgiving its formulaic beginning. Much like the recent Inside Man this is yet another excellent example of taking something prescribed and turning it on its ear. Of course much of the intelligence comes from the smartly written script by Jason Smilovic who supplies the actors with plenty of juicy mouthfuls. But Slevin makes you think. It makes you want to find the clues so you can figure out the puzzle. Or if you didn’t catch the clue have it shown to you in an inventive way. Thank god independent film these days offers such new and resourceful ways to watch staid themes.