What annoys me inutterably about Lottery Ticket is that it’s actually trying to send a message, namely that greed, with all due respect to Gordon Gecko, is not good. As I sat in the theater, listening to the high school kids sitting behind me endlessly tittering (and making the occasional unnecessary comment), I wondered who amongst the filmmakers actually believed a message would get through to anyone. This is not a movie that puts an effort into making a point; all it does it bombard you with low-grade humor, most of which is wasted on tiresome black stereotypes that weren’t all that funny to begin with. It doesn’t help that the movie is bipolar, broad and goofy one moment and deadly serious the next; the two tones fit together so awkwardly, it’s as if elements were literally cut and pasted from an entirely different screenplay.
The plot involves Kevin Carson (Bow Wow), an eighteen-year-old high school graduate from the projects of Atlanta. Despite his dreams of becoming a shoe designer, finances and family prevent him from escaping the world he grew up in. Lottery fever hits his neighborhood during the Fourth of July weekend, the jackpot now at a whopping $370 million; despite his misgivings about the lottery, he plays the numbers printed on the back of a fortune cookie strip, and miraculously wins. Word spreads quickly, despite the fact that the ticket office is closed and won’t reopen until the fifth. The neighborhood flocks to his home. People who had previously ignored him now shower him with attention. In due time, he finds himself in debt to the neighborhood godfather (Keith David) and on the hit list of an ex-con (Gbenga Akinnagbe), who wants revenge.
How did he get involved with the godfather, nicknamed Sweet Tee? Somehow or another, it connects to the neighborhood hottie, Nikki (Teairra Mari), who is apparently from the projects yet claims to have dated famous men and dresses as if she can afford to live somewhere else; in an effort to show her a good time, Sweet Tee loans Kevin $100,000, which, of course, he spends in one fell swoop. Silliness soon gives way to bad taste when Nikki reveals that she wants to be Kevin’s baby mama; not only is this not funny, it’s also offensive. So too is a scene in an upscale restaurant, when Kevin’s self appointed “entourage” – a motley crew of overblown caricatures – make spectacles of themselves in front of the white guests, talking loudly and stealing the silverware. In any other movie, a scene like this would be insulting.
Virtually every character is a badly developed typecast. Kevin’s grandmother (Loretta Devine) is a boisterous Jesus freak who apparently has dreams about lottery numbers. His best friend, Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), is nothing more or less than comedy relief, which is a clumsy fit for the inevitable confrontation between the two. The local reverend (Mike Epps) would under different circumstances be a televangelist. As he stands in front of his faithful congregation, a Powerpoint presentation compares what he has with what he wants to have, such as a bigger church, a mansion, and a young and hot wife. All of this, he says, can be made possible if Kevin makes a generous donation. What I find so objectionable is that he has a congregation at all; no self-respecting Christian would ever take this man seriously.
Interwoven with this is a developing romance between Kevin and his long-time friend, Stacie (Naturi Naughton), who may not be as pretty as girls like Nikki but is at least honest, decent, and insightful. A character of such high standards has no business in a movie like this, but more to the point, the romance is about as contrived and predictable as that of your average romantic comedy. It seems she was included only out of necessity for a female lead. She’s a plot device, and nothing more.
The same can be said for a reclusive former boxer (Ice Cube), who lives in the basement of the complex and hasn’t left his apartment in over twenty years. Why? He claims it’s because the neighborhood is a haven for drugs and violence, although we don’t really see any of that, so it’s kind of hard to take his word for it, and I don’t care how much he hears from the vent in his living room. Because he has been hidden away, rumors circulate that he’s a serial killer. Whenever he wants food or supplies – say a cherry Coke and some beef jerky – he reaches through the basement window, hands Kevin some money, and asks him to go get them. Does this seem a bit implausible to you? It doesn’t matter; his real function is to be a wise elder to Kevin, a convenient way to teach lessons and give advice.
I know of a far better film about the ups and downs of winning the lottery. It’s called It Could Happen to You. It stars Nicholas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez. Do yourself a tremendous favor and rent that movie instead of going to see Lottery Ticket. It’s not funny. It’s not meaningful. It sends a message the target audience is not likely to take to heart or even hear, begging the question of why it was brought up in the first place. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and because of that, there are moments when it goes too far in both directions. I’m no expert in calculating odds, but I suspect you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of enjoying anything this movie has to offer.