The 1995 hit Friday signaled a profound change in Ice Cube’s life, career, and image, as the scowling provocateur of NWA and Amerikkka’s Most Wanted became an unlikely straight man who anchored slice-of-life comedies like the Friday sequels and Barbershop movies with his agreeably gruff persona. The winning new comedy-drama Lottery Ticket, from Cube’s production company Cube Vision, echoes Friday and Barbershop in its leisurely pacing and colorful tale of a neighborhood that develops money fever when one of its own gains possession of a winning lottery ticket worth $370 million. Only this time, charming young upstart Bow Wow inhabits the Ice Cube role of the straight man reacting to a world of larger-than-life characters and free-floating mayhem, and Cube takes a character role as a mysterious hermit.
Bow Wow leads a sprawling, oversized cast of ringers as a sweet young man who dreams of escaping his desperately poor neighborhood by starting his own shoe company. His life changes for the better when he buys the ticket, but with mo’ money comes mo’ problems. Soon, he’s the subject of attention both wanted (a hood vixen suddenly gets dollar signs in her eyes when she looks at him) and unwanted (his rising fortune puts him on the radar of the neighborhood’s crime kingpin and bully).
Like Barbershop, The Lottery Ticket is about a community as much as it is about a lucky young man who gets in over his head. Late in the film, a heavy dramatic scene between Bow Wow and best friend Brandon T. Jackson should stop the film dead and feel jarring tonally, but the filmmakers have done such a fine job of establishing an undercurrent of lower-class despair and desperation that the scene proves unexpectedly poignant, even amid a lot of lowbrow wackiness and flashy turns from scene-stealers like Terry Crews as Bow Wow’s driver/bodyguard, the ubiquitous Loretta Devine as his God-fearing mother, Charlie Murphy as the neighborhood gossip, and even a surprisingly hilarious T-Pain as the man who sells Bow Wow his golden ticket. Lottery Ticket gets far on the strength of its star’s charisma and a likeable tone that falters only during Bow Wow’s sordid encounter with an opportunistic would-be conquest. Even in a hangout movie this affable, alas, gold-diggers still get no love.