Playing like a high-concept twist on “Friday” but never managing that film’s combination of sweet local flavor and comically played dark elements, “Lottery Ticket” is a frantic, at times too-broad comedy about the travails of a recent lotto winner. Directed with unexpected verve and style by Erik White, the script is never nearly as clever as the premise ought to allow, and the madcap fun is far too frequently derailed by tonal inconsistencies. There are bright moments to be found, however, and the Warner Bros. item should score midlevel winnings on its Aug. 20 release.
Former child rapper Bow Wow tackles his first adult leading part as Kevin, a Foot Locker salesman living with his grandmother (Loretta Devine) in an Atlanta housing project. An admirably economical opening scene, in which Kevin is continually interrupted on his way to work, introduces the colorful neighborhood, including best friend Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), super-hot girl-next-door Stacie (Naturi Naughton), incrementally hotter mean girl Nikki (Teairra Mari) and a whole Greek chorus’ worth of local layabouts.
After a run-in with a frighteningly muscled ex-con (Gbenga Akinnagbe) leaves Kevin jobless and with a price on his head, he buys a ticket for the imminent $370 million lottery drawing as a consolation. Owing to the magic of fortune cookies, Kevin’s numbers come up — but this being the Fourth of July weekend, he must spend three days navigating his way through sycophantic well-wishers and more malicious forces before he can claim his money.
The premise here is promising, and never better explored than in the pic’s earliest scenes, when Kevin’s woozy euphoria seesaws with crazed panic. But some easily avoided bad decisions make Kevin’s ordeal almost too conveniently difficult (especially an ill-advised deal with a creepy loan shark, followed by one of the more joyless shopping-spree montages in recent memory), and clumsy stabs at social commentary slow things down when they should be spiraling out of control.
Young director White shoots the film with some almost neorealist splashes of grit, and the scenes set around the project grounds feel welcomely vivid and lived-in. He doesn’t quite manage to sustain this tone, unfortunately, and the pic vacillates between gentle comedy and strangely brutal violence later on, with no solid center to hold things together.
Bow Wow manages his part well enough, though his is a mostly reactive role, and he resorts to scowly emoting whenever required to show some agency of his own. But the real surprise is exec producer Ice Cube, who plays against type as an elderly, agoraphobic former boxer. Gray-bearded and painfully hunched-over, Cube taps into a rarely seen reservoir of soul for such a minor part.
Other supporting players are hit-and-miss. Mike Epps somehow manages to barely graze the easiest of targets as an unscrupulous gospel preacher, and Terry Crews is wasted as a cookie-cutter tough guy. But Charlie Murphy is quietly hilarious as the neighborhood gossip, and most unexpectedly, first-time actor Faheem Najm (better known as ubiquitous Auto-Tune purveyor T-Pain) completely steals his three scenes as a liquor store clerk.
Technical contributions are mostly pro, and though some may find the editing a bit rushed and jagged, it keeps things snappy and visually interesting.