It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Lucky Number Slevin" is too clever by half. It's the worst kind of con: It tells us it's a con, so we don't even have the consolation of being led down the garden path. The rug of reality is jerked out from under us in the opening scenes, and before long the floor is being dismantled. Crouched in the dark, I am resentful. Since the plot is irrelevant and the dialogue too mannered to be taken seriously, all I'm left with are the performances and the production design.
The performances, to be sure, are juicy. A team of A-list actors do their specialty numbers, and it's fun to see pros at work. The movie begins with a man in a wheelchair (Bruce Willis) telling an inexplicable story to a stranger in an airport lounge. An empty lounge, which immediately labels the scene as dubious at best, fantasy at worst. The story involves the story of a fixed horse race, and there is mention of the Kansas City Shuffle. It is not clear exactly what the Kansas City Shuffle is, but Willis observes that you can't have one without a body. This is not what you want to hear from a stranger in an empty airport lounge.
Cut to Josh Hartnett, playing Slevin, arriving at the New York apartment of his friend Nick, and being mistaken for Nick by hired goons working for The Boss (Morgan Freeman). The Boss, played by Freeman with his usual suave charm, tells Slevin (or Nick) he owes a lot of money, but the debt can be forgotten if he will kill the son of The Boss's rival crime kingpin, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). In no time at all, Slevin/Nick is hauled by an alternative set of goons before The Rabbi, who makes him an alternative offer he can't refuse.
The Rabbi and The Boss occupy Manhattan penthouses that face each other, and at times they stalk their terraces, fiercely glaring across the street. I was reminded of "The Singing Kid" (1936), in which Al Jolson and Cab Calloway occupy facing penthouses and perform a duet from their balconies. Even in a crime movie as peculiar as "Lucky Number Slevin," a duet between Freeman and Kingsley would be too much to hope for.