By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
If you have seen Barbershop, Beauty Shop, any of the Friday flicks or every Madea movie, then you've seen Lottery Ticket. Only the names of the stereotypes and reasons for their antics are changed to protect the makers from plagiarism charges.
Like those other comedies geared to African-American audiences, Lottery Ticket eventually gets around to an uplifting message of community bonding and renewal. That's the last five minutes, after 90 devoted to a neighborhood of hustlers, thugs and fixers, with little fresh added to the formula.
The easy way out this time is a winning $370 million lottery ticket held by Kevin Carson (Bow Wow), a conscientious young man who loves his fluttery grandmother (Loretta Devine) and his job at Foot Locker. Kevin picked the numbers from a fortune cookie presented by Stacie (Naturi Naughton), the nice girl he should date, so he eventually will.
The hitch is that it's the Fourth of July weekend, and the lottery office is closed. Kevin wants his good fortune kept secret, knowing he'll be swamped by parasites otherwise. Word leaks out thanks to Grandma and Kevin's buddy Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), and suddenly everyone wants to be Kevin's best friend.
That list includes a smooth gangster (Keith David) and his henchman (Terry Crews), a thug (Gbenga Akinnagbe) just released from prison, a gold digger (Teairra Mari), a flashy preacher (Mike Epps) and the neighborhood gossip (Charlie Murphy). Only the old recluse Mr. Washington (Ice Cube) isn't interested in Kevin's money since he never leaves his basement.
Whatever laughter Lottery Ticket earns is through familiarity with these exaggerated characters, and actors going the extra mile to make viewers believe they haven't seen this material before. Director Erik White struggles with his first film's tone; broad humor abruptly switches to sensual interludes or violence, or Mr. Washington explaining his solitude over melancholy violins out of step with the rest of the movie.
Lottery Ticket does feature an appealing couple to root for. I haven't seen Bow Wow since he dropped the "Lil' " from his name, and I left impressed with his easy camera manner. Naughton — the best thing about the Fame remake and a terrific Lil' Kim in Notorious — will get much better roles than this.
Aside from them, the notable thing about Lottery Ticket is its polished production by Alcon Entertainment, the company that will begin filming Dolphin Tale in Clearwater next month. Alcon has plenty to brag about with The Blind Side and The Book of Eli. Lottery Ticket, not so much.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/ movies.