Take Two

by Ed Symkus & r & & r & Lucky Number Slevin & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & J & lt;/span & ust this one time, you might want to take a page from a professional film reviewer's handbook and bring along a pen and some paper. You'll need to jot down hash marks to keep track of the body count in this nasty, funny and murderous mystery.

The oddly named Slevin (Josh Hartnett) appears to be a real sap -- a loser of a fellow who calls upon a friend named Nick but is mistaken by some very bad men to be Nick. In a film-long motif that has someone burying a hard fist in his stomach in sucker-punch manner, Slevin is taken to see "The Boss" (Morgan Freeman), a smooth operator of a gangster, in his fancy apartment. After a lengthy discussion by the Boss about Shmoos (the willing and edible creatures from the L'il Abner comic strip), Slevin is told that he owes him a lot of money; to cancel the debt, he must kill the Rabbi's son.

Confused? No? You will be.

Returning to Nick's place -- Nick is nowhere to be found -- Slevin is soon visited by two other very bad men who call him Nick. After a gut punch, they take him to see the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), another gangster, in another snazzy apartment, who informs Slevin how much money he owes him ... and so goes this weird little movie.

We never find out why the Boss is called the Boss, but it's made clear -- via a scene in which he is reading a Torah with a silver pointer -- that the Rabbi is a rabbi. Then there's Slevin's target, Yitzchok (Michael Rubenfeld), who has the nickname the Fairy (it's easy to figure out why), and Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), a mysterious and dangerous fellow who keeps showing up at opportune and inopportune times, depending on whether he's with or after someone.

Of the two crime lords, all we need to know is, as Slevin is told, "Neither man leaves his respective tower of isolation for fear of what the other will do to him." Nick's nosy and perky neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu), who takes a liking to a half-naked Slevin while borrowing sugar, is a coroner who fancies herself a modern-day female Columbo. And Detective Brikowski (Stanley Tucci), who follows most of the characters? Well, he's either brilliant or incompetent.

Everybody in this film talks too much, but much of what they say is rich in comic banter. Violence is plentiful and often vicious, and the camerawork encompasses wild ideas such as whipping back and forth between two tall buildings and making it look like there are three people in a scene when there are only two. The story is complex but enters convoluted waters only when everything finally starts to get explained. It all ties together before the film's very cool couple of endings, but you'd better be paying attention ... and checking off those hash marks. (Rated R)