The comedy “Lottery Ticket” is a movie that begs to be liked. It has the fairly reliable Ice Cube as both its executive producer and most thoughtful character. It has an affable lead in rapper/entertainer Bow Wow, who is surrounded by familiar and talented faces in the African-American comedy scene.
It even has a premise – an unsuspecting kid wins a massive jackpot but must survive the long 4th of July weekend in the projects in order to claim his prize – with potential for substance, not to mention laughs. Which is why it is all the more disappointing that “Lottery Ticket” has little of either, its vast potential muted by a script so formulaic that the only surprise is the seemingly endless parade of tired caricatures.
Bow Wow plays Kevin, an aspiring young shoe designer whose dream has yet to reach beyond a job at the mall’s Foot Locker. It is the Friday before Independence Day weekend and also the day when the ping-pong balls will announce the largest lottery jackpot ever, 370 million big ones. News reports on TV (a sorely overused device) build up the lottery fever with shots of long lines at convenience stores and a string of “what would you do if you won the jackpot?” interviews. We meet most of the characters as Kevin walks through the neighborhood on his way to work – a gossipy neighbor (Charlie Murphy), an unobtainable goddess (Teairra Mari), a mysterious recluse (Ice Cube), and a fearsome thug (Gbenga Akinnagbe) who promises he will be by to pick up a few free pairs of Air Jordans. When Kevin stops to talk with a smack-talking, do-nothing gaggle on the stairs, he tells them, “Don’t you know the lottery is designed to keep poor people poor by selling them false dreams?” Unfortunately, like its subject, the line offers false hope for more depth to come.
Of course, Kevin wins after reluctantly playing the numbers he got in a fortune cookie. He and his God-fearing grandma (the supremely underused Loretta Devine) agree to keep it a secret. Not a chance. In about five minutes, the entire neighborhood knows, and the previously mentioned characters, along with a gold-digging preacher (Mike Epps) and the smarmy neighborhood godfather (Keith David), try to dip their hands into Kevin’s newly deepened pockets. He just has to hold onto the ticket until Tuesday, the day the lottery office reopens.
“Lottery Ticket” is music-video director Erik White’s first feature-length film and it shows. The tone shifts abruptly from slapstick farce to melodrama to violence to a “give back to where you came from” message that seems tacked on at best.
The screenplay by Abdul Williams is so by-the-numbers that within the first 20 minutes it becomes painfully clear how each character will return. The only exception is Ice Cube’s recluse, who was a former sparring partner to the boxing greats and who gives the film some much- needed mystery and grounding.
Ultimately, “Lottery Ticket” is a comedy, and none of this would matter if it had enough funny moments to offset its flaws. Instead, the movie is a bland exercise in filmmaking, content with trite antics, caricatures and life lessons, when the jackpot could have been comic gold.
1hr 35min. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and adult situations.