The Misunderstood: Lucky Number Slevin

The Misunderstood: Lucky Number Slevin

I will contest that the majority of entertainment media is made up of various kinds of geekery. When we think about the stuff that would be considered mostly mainstream, it usually doesn't key into genre fare or other acquired tastes. Most of non-geek cinema falls into broad categories like romantic comedy (which is as old as theater itself) or straight drama that revolves around whatever the modern conception of "normal" happens to be. Everything else is for niche audiences, those people who like things for inexplicable reasons and who don't mind not being able to share those preferences with most of the other people around them. We want to like things that most folks don't like. It makes it special, it makes it ours. That's why disco died but Rocky Horror refuses to go out of circulation. Taken through the lens of geekery, the lopsided success of Paul McGuigan's 2006 flop Lucky Number Slevin not only makes sense, it actually makes the film more endearing.

See, most of what we easily identify as geeky doesn't really cover most of the full realm of geekdom. Sure, science fiction and high fantasy are the twin capitols of geekery, but they're also right on the border of mainstream. Given the unqualified success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the scads of super hero movies dotting the last decade, it's pretty ridiculous to say that comics and thick novels about wizards are really as niche as they used to be. The truly geeky stuff still has a tiny but devoted audience. Among these vestiges of true niche is Noir geekery. For a brief period in the first half of the 20th century, gritty stories about murder, blackmail and deception set in cities straight out of modernist nightmares were all the rage. But those stories eventually faded into the background as epic histories, sunny musicals and screwball comedies took center stage.

Every once in a while, Noir sneaks back onto the big screen with mixed results. China Town is a solid classic while The Black Dhalia is a few too many points off its intended mark. But Noir isn't really supposed to be huge. It's supposed to be comfort food for those of us who like discomfort, the folks who want to see the good guy get knocked around and maybe even lose. Noir gives us stories in which the protagonists aren't even all that sympathetic and so much of the story is predicated on obfuscation and mistrust that viewers don't really get to sit in the relative safety of omniscience.

So, when Paul McGuigan (a director with a checkered credits list) got his hands on Jason Smilovic's twisty, stylized script for Lucky Number Slevin he ended up making a movie that was basically designed for the same people who loved Payback and Brick, not whatever was playing at the multiplex for 18 straight weeks. Slevin has a cast of 21st century pulp actors like Lucy Liu, who has never been in a truly serious film, and Josh Hartnett, the quintessential teen heartthrob gone to seed. Slevin is a movie that, between its bizarre pacing and liberal use Judaica, clearly has no intention of being mainstream.

All told, Lucky Number Slevin had an okay run at the box office, grossing a little over $50 million worldwide which certainly exceeded its noticeably low budget. It missed the crime-obsessed Cinema of Cool by a clean decade, but it's also a lot less self-conscious and hip than the likes of Quentin Tarantino's early work. The movie has a 52% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which for those of us who speak Internet clearly means that everyone who hated Slevin met with an equal number of people who loved the hell out of it. For a movie that plays almost exclusively to its adoring brand of geek, a 50/50 ratio of love and hate seems about right.