Bow Wow in 'Lottery Ticket'

Employing a scatter-shot approach has its benefits. The genial yet thin moral comedy Lottery Ticket takes aim at so many targets, from such a low angle, that it's bound to score a few hits. Indeed, two or three set-ups and/or pay-offs deliver big laughs, and the atmosphere is friendly and convivial. Too often, however, Lottery Ticket relies on overly-roasted chestnuts and stale Sunday school lessons, with an occasional "naughty" moment scattered in for good measure. Your chance of enjoying the film in its entirety, therefore, is about 185 million to 1.

Those are the odds given in the movie for buying the winning lottery ticket in a drawing to give away $370 million. Everyone in the Fairmont Fillmore * neighborhood is excited and lines up at the local convenience store for their chance to be an instant millionaire, but industrious high school senior Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) knows better. The lottery is a game 'designed to give false hope to poor people,' he scoffs, as he heads to the mall for his job at Foot Locker.

Kevin owns dozens of carefully-tended sneakers and dreams of owning his own shoe design company one day. He's a good kid who looks after his loving grandmother (Loretta Devine), enjoys the loyalty of his best friend Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), is respectful and polite to all his neighbors, and even runs errands for old Mr. Washington (Ice Cube), a recluse who hasn't emerged from his basement apartment in many years. Kevin is frustrated, though, that he can't see a way clear to attend college, like his comely, platonic friend Stacie (Naturi Naughton). When will his dreams come true?
After a terrible day in which he's threatened by menacing drug dealer Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe, who played a soft-spoken villain to much greater, chilling effect in The Wire) and his gang, and loses his job to boot, the discouraged Kevin gives in and buys a ticket. When he arrives back in the friendly confines of Fairmount Fillmore *, no doubt seeking a quiet place to lick his wounds, he's been branded a snitch for supposedly setting up Lorenzo to get busted; everyone in the neighborhood believes the unfounded rumors, and Kevin quickly finds himself an outcast. He can barely drag himself into bed.

Everything changes the next day when he discovers he owns the winning ticket. Maybe now his dreams can come true!

Swearing his grandmother (Loretta Devine) to secrecy, Kevin heads off with Benny to collect his winnings, only to learn that the lottery office is closed for the 4th of July weekend. Now he must survive the long weekend, avoiding revenge-bent Lorenzo and the entire neighborhood. It seems that everyone has forgotten about his being a snitch and is begging their longtime friend for help. And the hot girl who spurned him the day before, suddenly wants to have his baby -- after some hot sex, of course.

In the script by Abdul Williams, based on a story by Williams and Erik White, who also directed, neighborhood is meant to be a key element of the film, the glue that holds together the disparate lives of hundreds of people living in close proximity, dealing with pressures and problems unique to that community, yet universal in their concerns.

In that regard, there's a resemblance to the Friday series of films starring Ice Cube. (He serves here as executive producer.) Those three comedies consisted of loosely-structured episodes that shone a light on proud, lower middle-class, African-American neighborhoods and the struggles of the common man. In Lottery Ticket , the Fairmount Fillmore * neighborhood is meant to be a microcosm of larger issues, but the ideas are talked about rather than shown.

Based on the righteous platitudes trotted out on a regular basis, the film wants to make us feel the pain of all the good people in the neighborhood who are suffering on account of a few bad apples. It also wants to decry negative trends in the community: an unhealthy obsession with material things (like expensive shoes), the predilection of young women to get impregnated by wealthy athletes, and the tendency to judge people based on outward appearance.

At the same time, Lottery Ticket wants to celebrate those few fortunate ones who make it big financially and are willing to give something back to the community. Implicit in all of these concurrent good intentions is the acknowledgment that neither government officials nor law enforcement officers care, at all, about what happens in such communities. In a do-it-yourself world, folks need a hand up, and if the government's not going to do it, it's up to each one of us.

Especially if you've just won $370 million.

Lottery Ticket has many good intentions, but they weigh the film down. It works best in those few, fleeting moments when it's silly and lunatic: Kevin and his grandmother celebrating their good fortune; Kevin's inability to keep the secret from his buddy Benny on a public bus; the neighborhood chasing Kevin for no good reason; Benny devising a plan for escape; a gangster (Keith David) and his driver (Terry Crews) who aren't as tough as they think they are; a flamboyant preacher (Mike Epps) who senses that the time for a new church and personal mansion have come.

There aren't nearly enough of those moments, though. You'd probably be more entertained if you set up lawn chairs across the street from the nearest theater playing the movie, cracking jokes with your friends. Alas, Lottery Ticket is not worth the price of its titular instrument of currency.

Brandon T. Jackson, Bow Wow, Terry Crews, and Keith David in 'Lottery Ticket'

* Update: Name of fictitious neighborhood / housing project corrected.