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Movie Review

"A Kansas City Shuffle," a wheelchair-bound man named Smith says to another man in an airport as Lucky Number Slevin opens, "is when everybody looks right, and you go left." To illustrate his point, Smith promptly breaks the stranger's neck, puts him in a wheelchair and rolls him into the back of a moving van—and then the real story begins.

Slevin Kelvera is not having a good week. After losing his job, having his apartment building condemned, finding his girlfriend in bed with another man and getting his nose broken by a mugger, Slevin decides to spend a few days with his friend Nick Fisher to regroup. But when he gets to Nick's NYC apartment, he's nowhere to be found. Undaunted, Slevin moves in anyway. He's barely made himself at home when three more unexpected events occur. He meets his quirky across-the-hall neighbor, Lindsey. He's kidnapped by agents of a crime lord known as The Boss, who believe he's Nick. Then he's kidnapped by henchmen of another underworld kingpin called The Rabbi, who also believes he's Nick.

Nick Fisher, as it turns out, is in way over his head. The Boss refuses to listen to Slevin's complaints that he's not Fisher, and holds Slevin liable for the other man's $96,000 debt. The only way out for Slevin is the "gracious" gangster's offer to forgive the debt in exchange for Slevin murdering the son of his rival, The Rabbi. He's given three days to do it. By the time Slevin meets The Rabbi, he's not surprised to discover that Fisher owes him an additional $33,000 as well. The Rabbi gives Slevin 48 hours to come up with the money.

While Slevin scrambles to manage his mistaken-identity crisis, Lindsey is determined to discover what happened to Nick. Her amateur sleuthing leads her to Smith, aka Mr. Goodkat, who is apparently connected to both The Boss and The Rabbi. Slevin, meanwhile, is being closely shadowed by a cop named Brikowski who's determined to find out why two crime bosses are suddenly so interested in a man with no criminal history. As one character after another ends up dead, Slevin pulls his own "Kansas City Shuffle" on the two violent, powerful men who're threatening him.

Positive Elements

A mournful monologue by The Rabbi informs us that neither he nor The Boss have left their respective apartment complexes—which are across the street from one another—in 20 years for fear that the other man would kill him. The Rabbi regrets having lived so much of his life in a de facto prison of his own making.

[Spoiler Warning] Lindsey gets caught in the crossfire of violence that has erupted around Slevin. However, he foresees this possibility and engineers a plan to ensure she doesn't get killed.

Spiritual Content

The Rabbi, whose real name is Shlomo, is indeed a Jewish teacher—albeit a corrupt one. He tells Slevin that the three commandments he keeps are no idol worship, no adultery and no premeditated murder. (This last command he interprets rather loosely, to say the least.) The Rabbi later tells Slevin he's not answering the phone because it's the Sabbath, and he's seen reading the Jewish scriptures.

A bit of positive philosophical musing from The Rabbi is this reflection on contentment: "People are never happy with what they have. They want what they had, what someone else has."

Sexual Content

Two very explicit scenes clearly depict two different couples having sex. One of these scenes also includes a significant amount of breast nudity. Slevin and Lindsey eventually have sex, but it's not depicted onscreen.

Slevin spends the first third of the movie wearing nothing but a towel that rides dangerously low. When Lindsey knocks on the door looking for Nick, Slevin answers it in that towel. After she leaves, he undoes his towel to retighten it (the camera is behind him). Lindsey reopens the door to tell him one more thing and sees him naked. Several references to his anatomy follow. She leaves, then opens the door again, telling Slevin that she'd hoped to catch him nude one more time; he tells her the next show isn't until later. Elsewhere, Lindsey wears cleavage-revealing outfits.

The Rabbi's son, Yitzchok, is living a gay lifestyle. In order to kill him, Slevin pretends to be a homosexual. The Boss makes several derogatory references to Yitzchok's sexual preference, including calling him "the fairy." A character makes an obscene reference to the Virgin Mary's anatomy. Slevin tells a joke about having two penises.

Violent Content

Most of the characters in Lucky Number Slevin meet brutal ends. An opening scene sets the tone for this hyper-violent film when a man is shot twice getting into his car. His head subsequently plunges through a car-door window before he lands in a widening pool of blood on the concrete. At least six other characters are shot and killed with equally bloody results (including a policeman who is shot in the head at point-blank range inside his car).

A man stabs two others with poison-filled syringes before killing a third by hurling a baseball at his face (we see the ball coming from the victim's perspective). Three men are brutally murdered by others who place plastic bags over their heads, then tie them off with duct tape to suffocate them. One of them has apparently been tortured for some time before being killed (his face is covered with blood and bruises). It's implied that a woman is killed with a shotgun (we witness blood splatter) and that a small boy is murdered as well. Following an explosion, the corpse of a badly charred victim is shown at the morgue.

Non-lethal violence includes a mugger who hits Slevin in the nose, breaking it. It's implied that The Boss' thugs rebreak it, as Slevin's nose is again covered in blood. Someone else later hits him in the face and breaks his nose yet again. Several characters are hit hard in the face or on the head, leaving bloody wounds. Police treat Slevin roughly, head-butting him and shoving him out of a slowly moving surveillance van. A horse falls during a race.

And as if there wasn't enough violence the first time around, a series of flashbacks near the film's conclusion replays many of the most violent and gory scenes again (some of them are shown three times).

Crude or Profane Language

Characters use the f-word at least 30 times. S-words are uttered about 10 times, and God's and Jesus' names are taken in vain about that many times as well (including two uses of "g--d--n"). Vulgar slang terms are assigned to male and female anatomy. A character blurts out racial slurs for two different ethnic groups.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Slevin and Lindsey are each shown drinking glasses of wine at a restaurant. A couple of scenes depict other characters engaging in similar social drinking.

Other Negative Elements

Appropriately enough, a short speech is given on lex talionis, the Latin phrase meaning "the law of retaliation." It's an apt description of what motivates virtually every character in the movie. Revenge is what has fueled the bloody, decades-long feud between The Boss and The Rabbi. [Spoiler Warning] And in the end, we learn that Slevin and Mr. Goodkat have masterminded everything that has happened in the film in order to kill the two crime lords. Why? Because those men killed Slevin's parents 20 years earlier.

Other negative content includes a man betting $20,000 on a horse that's been doped before its race.


It won't surprise me if this stylish, violent thriller does well at the box office, given its strong combination of A-list Hollywood veterans (Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman) and rising stars (Josh Hartnett, Lucy Liu). But moviegoers hoping for an engaging story (one that often echoes the suspenseful structure of 1995's The Usual Suspects) will be forced to sit through buckets of bloodshed and two completely gratuitous—and graphic—sex scenes as well.

In addition to these serious content concerns, the troubling (and unbiblical) philosophical message of the film suggests that revenge is the only possible response to violence. None of the characters seriously consider whether retaliation will satisfy their desire for justice. Instead, they are imprisoned by their determination to take matters into their own hands. The Rabbi has a moment of regret as he reflects upon the decades of isolation that his desire for revenge has wrought. Nevertheless, he quickly dismisses those thoughts, rationalizing, "I'm a bad man. I live on both sides of the fence. The grass is always green." Thus, any opportunity the film might have taken to comment on its characters' folly is squandered—along with any last sliver of a redemptive message.

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Josh Hartnett as Slevin; Lucy Liu as Lindsey; Ben Kingsley as The Rabbi Shlomo; Bruce Willis as Smith/Mr. Goodkat; Morgan Freeman as The Boss; Stanley Tucci as Brikowski; Michael Rubenfeld as Yitzchok


Paul McGuigan ( )





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Adam R. Holz

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