If you have seen Boyz N The Hood, Juice or the seemingly dozens of other ‘hood movies made in the ‘90s, you might assume that everyone living in urban projects is depressed, gloomy and either prone to violence or living in fear of it. But as a Caucasian big-city reporter who’s been thrust into covering everything from Jesse Jackson’s Chicago crusades to life on Skid Row to the lives of former gangbangers striving to make amends by leading after-school programs for at-risk youth, I’ve been blessed with the eye-opening opportunity to see that there’s plenty of good and happiness thriving in our inner cities as well.
That’s why seeing a movie like Lottery Ticket released on a major scale is refreshing. As a comedy centered around the misadventures of a teenager in the Atlanta projects who wins a $370 million lottery and then has to survive the three-day Fourth of July weekend in order to claim his prize, Lottery Ticket offers a fun and vibrant look at inner-city life that people of any race or background can enjoy.
Kevin (Bow Wow) is an 18-year-old, fresh out of high school with big dreams of opening up his own design firm to make flashy new tennis shoes for companies like Nike. But his reality ensures that he can’t afford design school and instead has to keep a roof over his and his grandma’s head by working at a Foot Locker. He’s a straight-shooting, hard-working kid who believes that the lottery is a scam that places false hope in the poor people around him, but when his grandma asks him to buy a ticket for her, he caves in to temptation and soon finds that he’s the winner.
Living in close quarters amid the projects, it doesn’t take long for word to get out, and soon Kevin finds that he’s being pursued by everyone from con artists to hot girls, and from the neighborhood criminal mastermind (a wickedly funny Keith David) to a thug with a grudge who wants to take Kevin’s ticket away from him by as painful a means as possible. Meanwhile, Kevin is learning who’s really got his back among the hundreds of people who suddenly claim to be his friends.
Lottery Ticket is a movie that’s more likely to put a smile on viewers’ faces throughout than to have them consistently roaring with laughter. But how often does one get to come across a film with positive characters that don’t feel like preachy role models, and yet offer a rooting interest because of their recognizable humanity?
Kevin is someone who is truly trying to do the right thing, and the film scores points by showing his determination to give back to the community and the fact he comes to appreciate the genuine charms of a longtime female friend over the seductive allure of a shallow, gold-digging woman. He also respects his grandmother, who is shown as a positive woman of faith and scolds him for his occasional foul language.
Where it errs briefly yet strongly on the moral front is that even as Kevin’s friend Stacie (Naturi Naughton) says she’s not like the gold-digger seeking to get rich by being impregnated by him, she still is way too eager to hop into bed (they’re interrupted before anything happens) when Kevin expresses his deepening feelings for her. At least the movie emphasizes true love rooted in lasting friendship is way more important than a promiscuous thrill, and it’s shown that these two are built to last for life.
So amid these next two weeks of end-of-summer movie doldrums, mix things up a bit and place your bets on Lottery Ticket if you’re looking for a pleasant couple of hours at the movies.