Bow Wow as Kevin Carson
Brandon T. Jackson as Benny
Naturi Naughton as Stacie
Loretta Devine as Grandma
Ice Cube as Mr. Washington
Keith David as Sweet Tee
Terry Crews as Jimmy the Driver
Mike Epps as Reverend Taylor
Charles Murphy as Semaj
Gbenga Akinnagbe as Lorenzo
Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) has some tough problems. He’s a gifted artistic kid with a love of sneakers, growing up in the projects. He’s smart enough to know that he’s got what it takes to escape, but also smart enough to realize the odds are against him. Odds steep enough that the chances of winning the lottery seem positively reachable. And a lot more so after he wins the $370 million Powerball. But when all of his neighbors hear about it, he may change his mind about how lucky he really is.
Movies and the lottery should go together like bread and cheese, water and wine, black and everything. They’re both machines for wish fulfillment, letting us imagine what living a different, more exciting life would be like. Of course that sounds pretty shallow if you think about it, and it’s going to take a lot of work to turn wish fulfillment into anything approaching a story.
First time feature director Erik White isn’t prepared to go that far, though. What we get instead is a collection of different pre-designed fantasy bits which don’t connect to each other particularly well.
Winning a lottery naturally means an opportunity to go hog wild with a shopping montage, but to put any sort of dramatic conflict into the film, Kevin can’t actually claim his winnings for three days due to the Fourth of July holiday. In theory he is supposed to use that time to keep his ticket from being stolen, but in reality, he sort of wanders around in a daze.
Enter a local gangster (Keith David) who sees Kevin as a potential money tree and lends him some money to pass the time with. But White’s already created a villain in the form of Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe), the local street tough who will certainly steal the ticket if he can. Lorenzo’s not much of a threat if there is a gang of armed thugs hanging around, so White’s got to get rid of them somehow and the way he does so is so ridiculous it borders on insulting.
It’s these sorts of things that bring movies like “Lottery Ticket” down. They want to be about just wish fulfillment and light entertainment but they haven’t bothered to figure out how to bridge their big moments and the seams show quite badly.
It’s not particularly well served by Bow Wow, who spends most of the film as a spectator rather than a participant. That probably has more to do with the script by White and first time writer Abdul Williams, which doesn’t offer him much to do. That wouldn’t be the end of the road in another actor’s hands, but Bow Wow isn’t experienced or innately charismatic enough to do anything but what the script asks of him.
He’s so underwhelming, White has had to pair him with the much more over-the-top Brandon T. Jackson (“Tropic Thunder,” “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”) who knows how to steal a scene and does so frequently.
On the other end of the acting spectrum, White also introduces us to something that may be one day be looked on as the first sign of the apocalypse Ice Cube, character actor. Actually, he’s not too bad as the irascible former boxer and mentor to Kevin, but there’s still something about the notion that’s deeply unnerving. Ice Cube’s entire acting career has been about playing himself in whatever situation he’s placed in. Having him actually turn into someone else, however small a stretch that may be, may tear a hole in the fabric of reality.
Still, he comes off better than the rest of the cast who are asked to do little more than embody stereotypes, from Mike Epps’ greedy gun-toting pastor to Keith David’s greedy gun-toting mobster to Gbenga Akinnagbe’s greedy muscle-toting thug. A lot of it is just a waste.
It’s supposed to be funny in an absurd but true kind of way, but it’s not really either. There are some moments of actual drama as Kevin and his friends debate how much of a boon his winnings could be to the projects and how he can help his neighbors get out of the horrid circumstances he himself has grown up in. But it’s hard to take that sort of thing seriously in a film that has already made light out of guns (even the preacher carries one) and prison rape.
“Lottery Ticket” is generally harmless; too slight to hold-up the more serious themes it is thinking about, but too well-meaning to be out-and-out insulting. The filmmakers seemed to be aiming for something light and airy that would be gone as soon as you left the theater, and they got exactly that.