Who's In It: Bow Wow, Brandon T. Jackson, Loretta Devine, Naturi Naughton, Ice Cube, Keith David, Terry Crews, Mike Epps, Bill Bellamy, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Faheem Najm, Charlie Murphy, Teairra Mari
The Basics: Bow Wow wins the lottery, a $370 million jackpot he can collect after a long three-day weekend in the projects! At first, this is great news; suddenly everyone's Bow Wow's new best friend and a charitable local gangster (Keith David) loans him some quick cash against his soon-to-be-pocketed millions so that he can take his pals on a sneakers 'n' bling shopping spree. Of course, there's the local thug who wants to kill him (The Wire's Gbenga Akinnagbe), the best friend he starts doubting (Brandon T. Jackson), and the girl next door who's hopelessly in love with him (Naturi Naughton) even though he can't see past the hottest girl on the block who suddenly wants to be his baby mama. As a wise man once said, "Mo' money, mo' problems."
What's The Deal: The usual hood stereotypes are present and accounted for in this sprawling cast of colorful supporting characters, so what I'm about to say may come as a shock: Lottery Ticket is much deeper and more idealistic than your average urban comedy. Characters that appear at first to be caricatures are mined for surface laughs and then allowed to show intelligence, dignity, and dimension (a rarity in comedies these days, let alone those targeted at black audiences). Jokes fly fast and sharp, referencing failed social programs like No Child Left Behind and, yes, the fallacious money-drain fantasy that is the lottery system itself. Unfortunately, director/co-scripter Erik White relies unnecessarily on physical humor (not one, but two large men are incapacitated by blows to the groin) and melodrama to keep the movie on track. But the overarching sentiment about giving back to the community always feels genuine, pushing the funny and heartfelt Lottery Ticket heads and shoulders above other contemporary films of its ilk.
How It's Friday for a New Generation: Kids today probably know Ice Cube best as that guy from the Are We There Yet? movies, so maybe it was time Friday got an unofficial remake. Those of us who know Cube's 'hood classic backwards and forwards will recognize the many unmistakable similarities between Friday and Lottery Ticket--the earnest protagonist who just lost his job, the girl next door, the manic best friend, the neighborhood bully, the short, defined time period, even the climactic public showdown that defines the hero's character. But where Friday explores urban violence and ennui, Lottery Ticket adds economic responsibility and community, making it the more constructive (and conspicuously drug-free) of the two. Consider it an homage, acknowledge that Bow Wow is this generation's Ice Cube, and accept that limited edition Air Force Ones are this generation's status equivalents of Deebo's stolen bicycle, you old person, you.
What I'd Really Like to Know Is: If Bow Wow (who noticeably comes into his own as an actor), the filmmakers, and the studio will put their money where their mouth is. After letting a character riff sarcastically about rappers who rap about giving back but never do, the film closes with Bow Wow rapping about giving back while the end credits roll.
Lottery Ticket's Hilarious Secret Weapon: It's not Charlie Murphy playing a Charlie Murphy type, or Bill Bellamy's single-scene appearance as a "high style do-rag" model/neighborhood celebrity. No, the funniest single performance in Lottery Ticket comes from one Faheem Najm as the proprietor of the convenience store from which Bow Wow buys his winning ticket. Najm turns an otherwise forgettable throwaway role into a surprisingly astute, fascinating character who could sustain an entire spin-off movie of his own. (You might also know Najm by his stage name: T-Pain.)