Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Review

by "Harvey S. Karten" (film_critic AT compuserve DOT com)
February 3rd, 1999


Reviewed by Harvey Karten, Ph.D.
Gramercy Pictures
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Nick Moran, Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham, Dexter Fletcher, P.H. Moriarty, Vinnie Jones, Sting, Steven Mackintosh, others

    Some British papers have hailed "Lock, Stock and Barrel" as the film of the week, with some Brits hoping that it will play out in the U.S. like the major sleeper "The Full Monty." Unfortunately it is yet a copycat sample of its genre--one that mines the well-worn territory of comical criminals and glorified gangsters. It's a first-feature by its writer-director, Guy Ritchie, its style cloned largely from black-humor hoodlum genre works like "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." A moviegoing British public would probably identify it closely with the 1970 film "Get Carter" starring Michael Caine in the role of a small-time gangster investigating his brother' death, a work by Mike Hodges that captures the seediness of the petty rackets in England.

    Like Quentin Tarantino's 1994 masterwork "Pulp Fiction," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" is an audacious, outrageous look at honor among lowlifes told in a style that links seemingly separate stories, but though director Guy Ritchie hired a cluster of non-actors--including a couple of real tough ex-cons and a major British soccer player for a look of authenticity, none of the actors maintains the sheer magnetism of the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. Ritchie's film, like Tarantino's, is not for the squeamish: although its director states in the production notes that he abhors graphic violence and cuts away when the action gets vicious, the movie is laced with quite a few samples of the gory butchery albeit without the ketchup. Examples: one low-life holds the son of another gangster hostage in a car while the daddy drives toward their destination. When daddy gets the jump on the hostage taker, he dangles the latter's head just outside the car door and proceeds to close the door on the man's crown swiftly, viciously, and with intent to grind it to a pulp. In yet another vista, a hoodlum is felled by an axe thrown into his back but before checking out he manages to shoot the perp and the perp's boss in the gut.

    Although the plot can be plenty confusing, it avoids Tarantino's signature style by moving steadily, if at blazing speed, from one incident to another rather than narrate separate vignettes that come together only toward the conclusion. The picture's center is Eddie (Nick Moran), a attractive gang member whose company of pals raise the requisite 100 British pounds to enter a high-stakes card game at the porn palace of crime boss "Hatchet" Harry (P.H. Moriarty). Though Eddie, a noted card sharp, wins hand after hand, he is conned into taking a loan of 500,000 pounds from Harry for one big pot, not knowing that the game is rigged. When Eddie loses the hand he is warned by Harry's right- hand man, Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean), that Eddie and his three friends would have a week to come up with the money or lose one finger each for every day they are in arrears--and that's for starters. Eddie and company must think fast: how to raise such a grand sum in such a short time? The obvious answer: steal it from other criminals.
    With razzle-dazzle cinematography--including freeze- frames, slo-mo and fast-mo action, and upside-down images- -the sepia-toned print takes Eddie into the activities of criminal organizations, each specializing in a well-known aspect of drug-related or violent crime. We're introduced to marijuana growers and dealers, some Samoan drug lords (including one with an Afro in a role that an American director would have given to Sam Jackson), and a couple of buffoons who are sent out on a mission to steal valuable antique guns.
    Neither plot nor characterization appears to be the selling point of director Ritchie, who is eager to portray the milieu of London's East End during his 36-day shoot, caricaturing the neighborhood's bad-guy ambiance with Tim Maurice-Jones's helter-skelter photography. In one imaginative scene that goes by so fast that you'd do well not to blink, he flashes some dialogue made up almost entirely of Cockney colloquialisms with subtitles for the any overeducated people in the audience who are not hip to street slang. Not surprisingly the most convincing performers in the tale grew up in London's East End and are quite knowledgeable about the ways of the pub-crawlers and swindlers who make their home there. One such fellow, a guy with tough past who turns in one of the sharpest roles, is the late Lenny McLean as Barry the Baptist--known as Britain's most successful bare-knuckle fighter--who claimed to have been shot twice, stabbed, and a participant in countless barroom brawls.
    "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" would be a prominent piece of low-budget filmmaking if had appeared a decade or so ago, but by now the genre is so tired, the glorification of violent criminals so prosaic, that it rates simply as an also-ran. The characters sometimes blend together like the soldiers in Terrence Malick's "Thin Red Line," in a movie which, however amusing, is just repackaged fare.

Rated R. Running Time: 106 minutes. (C) 1999
Harvey Karten

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