The odds of winning the lottery are what, like, 1 in 175 million? The laughs aren't quite so hard to come by in "Lottery Ticket," but they're not a safe bet, either.
The feature debut from longtime music video director Erik White, which he co-wrote with Abdul Williams, starts out amiably enough, with a shaggy, shambling vibe. But it eventually devolves into a weirdly violent streak, followed by some seriously heavy-handed sentimentality. Still, the ensemble cast manages to keep things sporadically enjoyable.
Rapper-actor Bow Wow is all grown up here as Kevin, a recent high school graduate who's stuck working at Foot Locker but dreams of creating his own shoe line. "Lottery Ticket" is at its strongest off the top, as Kevin tries to make his way to work at the mall one morning but keeps getting delayed by the random neighbors in his Atlanta housing project.
They include his God-fearing grandma (Loretta Devine), the gossipy neighbor (Charlie Murphy) and the crazy recluse who lives in the basement and only pops his hand out with some cash for Kevin to buy him some beef jerky and a Cherry Coke (his identity will be revealed later). Along for the ride is his broke, unemployed best friend, Benny, played by Brandon T. Jackson, who has a loose, easy energy about him and gets many of the best lines. (He was also great as Alpa Chino in "Tropic Thunder.") And there's Kevin's childhood pal, the college-bound Stacie (Naturi Naughton), who clearly wants to be more than friends, and should be.
After a run-in with neighborhood ex-con Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe) over some Air Jordans gets him fired from his job, Kevin buys himself a lottery ticket while stopping at the corner store to buy one for his grandma. And whaddya know? The numbers he got out of a fortune cookie that day just happen to win him the $370 million jackpot. (Faheem Najm, better known as T-Pain, is hilarious in a low-key way in just a few scenes as the bemused store owner.)
But because we need a plot contrivance to make things difficult for Kevin, it just happens to be the extended July 4 weekend, so he has to wait three days to cash in at the lottery office. This also means he has to survive three days of people cozying up to him or trying to kill him because he's now a rich man. Keith David is reliable as the godfather of the projects, who gives Kevin a $100,000 "loan" in hopes of doing business with him (with an underused Terry Crews as his chauffeur/enforcer). Teairra Mari plays the resident sexpot who never gave him the time of day before but now wants to be his baby mama. And Mike Epps has an amusing scene as an opportunistic preacher.
In theory, because Kevin is a smart — and street-smart — kid, he should see though all these schemes and manipulations. But with his head swimming, he neglects the woman who's been loyal to him all along: Stacie. Only Ice Cube, showing some flashes of emotional depth as a retired boxer, can help set him straight. (He's also one of the film's executive producers.)
"Lottery Ticket," meanwhile, shows flashes of the kind of likable comedy that made Ice Cube's "Friday" a cult classic. It just doesn't show them consistently, and the cloyingly feel-good ending nearly negates the good will the movie generated from the beginning. It doesn't hit the jackpot but it's not a total loss.