Despite the presence of Ice Cube as both supporting player and executive producer, Lottery Ticket is no Friday. It ain't even Barbershop (or Millions, for that matter). But it's not bad for an urban comedy, generally amusing in its first hour before getting inevitably preachy on us.
One can almost see this as a passing of the torch from Cube to the no-longer-Lil' Bow Wow, from one rapper-turned-actor to another, and while Wow doesn't quite boast the former's innate charm, he's perfectly fine as the clean-cut Kevin, a would-be shoe designer who's ashamed of how everyone in his Atlanta projects is lining up to take a chance on a $370 million lotto jackpot. It's a system "designed to keep poor people poor," he insists, but once he loses his job at Foot Locker after a run-in with a local thug (Gbenga Akinnagbe), he's not above giving it a shot. Sure enough, Kevin's lunchtime fortune cookie has given him the perfect combination to win, but the 4th of July weekend means that he can't claim his prize for three whole days, and it doesn't even take one day for every gold digger and fair-weather friend to come knocking at his door.
As co-written between Erik White and Abdul Williams, and directed by music video vet White, Ticket often walks a fine line between madcap appeal and broad characterization at the start, more lively than shrill. For every scene stolen by T-Pain (as the convenience store owner who sells him the ticket), we get a moment involving Kevin's Caucasian-y store manager that's at best a hokey Ned Flanders impression and at best "whiteface." In one scene, we get frequent Cube cohort Mike Epps as an exaggerated Pentecostal preacher; in another, we're treated to a regrettably calm appearance by Charlie Murphy as the local source for gossip. Hard-headed mob boss Keith David? Surprisingly ineffectual bodyguard Terry Crews. And so on.
At the relatively calm center, we have Bow Wow, best friend Brandon T. Jackson and girl next door Naturi Naughton, and before you can call it, Jackson's dressing our protagonist down about trust and giving to the community while Naughton gets fed up as he falls for the obvious gold digger (Teairra Mari). Oddly enough, the ultimate confrontation between Kevin and this girl plays nicely - she insists on seducing him, and when he refuses to do the deed without protection, she lays out her mission to get herself a baby daddy ("This is my lottery ticket," she says pointing to her body). It's an on-the-nose moment, to be sure, but Mari sells it like this girl genuinely buys into that mentality and ever so slightly sidesteps the stereotype by owning up to it. The same can't be said for the characters who, upon stepping into a snobby restaurant for the first time, immediately start to steal the silverware.
And Cube? He plays Mr. Washington, a hunched-over recluse chock full of valuable lessons for the young gun. With hair dyed gray and a raspy voice, it's almost distracting to see the 41-year-old Cube try to pass himself off as someone older and wiser, but by the time he's appropriating this PG-13 film's solitary f-bomb to dust off Chris Tucker's famous line from Friday, it's easy to realize just how long he's been around the block.
Things were funnier then. But they ain't so bad now.
William Goss lives in Orlando, Florida. But don't hold that against him.