Lock, Stock &
Two Smoking Barrels

directed by Guy Ritchie
(HandMade Films, 1999)

What do you get when you mix Quentin Tarantino-esque plotlines, the British red light district of Soho, a couple of real-life hoods and a large cast of unknowns? Actually, you get a fairly good movie. In fact, this movie is what Tarantino wishes he could make -- a black comedy that works.

The basic premise is a gifted card player, Eddie (played by Nick Moran), gets together 100,000 pounds between him and his conman friends to play a game of high-stakes poker. The game is run by mobster and smut-king Harry the Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty). What Eddie doesn't know is that the game is fixed, and loses to Harry -- to the tune of 500,000 pounds. Harry's henchman, Barry the Baptist (played by the now-deceased Lenny McLean) informs the boys that they have one week to pay the debt, or nasty things will happen. What follows is a web of storylines involving Harry's quest for two antique rifles, a group of marijuana growers, a gang of thugs, a black drug gang and some misfit thieves all attempting to make their lives in crime and getting drawn together at the end.

I'll examine this movie with the headings The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The Good would be the excellent performances turned in by McLean, Moran and professional footballer Vinnie Jones as Harry's hitman and debt collector Big Chris. The various plots that are all tied together at the end switch relatively quick to keep your interest in them until they can be tied to the other plots, so rarely do you forget about the action in a previous scene. The only big name star in the movie, Sting, makes a surprise and subtle appearance as Eddie's father, doling out advice and punishment at the same time.

The fact that Sting was the only big name lends to this movie the aspect that Tarantino cannot seem to grasp -- casting relative unknowns in a movie means no baggage. For this movie to have worked like it did, you needed to be completely immersed into the many characters. Big stars would have forced you out, hogging screen time and having the plot revolve around them.

For The Bad, we have to look at first-time director Guy Ritchie's attempts to keep the action moving by adding strange quirks to the camera. Lots of still frame, slow-motion and other special shots mess with the flow of the film. There were so many characters with plot points in the film that you almost need a list to keep track of who is who and what they were doing. It's only until the last half hour that you finally grasp all the straws and turn scattered plots into an enjoyable ending. Finally, this movie is extremely violent -- Ritchie uses the film to demonstrate many different ways to torture and kill someone, and sometimes working the plot just for that one spot of action. At times it seems a bit contrived.

For The Ugly, you only have to look at the filthy streets to get into the atmosphere of the film. It's dark and gritty, as are the stars. The casting of the movie also lends to the atmosphere -- both Vinnie Jones and Lenny McLean have served prison time for violence against other people.

Truth be told, this movie is a glorification of violence and crime. These are characters that you absolutely do not want to meet in a dark alley -- or anywhere for that matter. With that said, this movie is what Payback was really supposed to be -- you cheer for the bad guy to win. With characters that have you wondering if any of these people do anything not involved with breaking the law, you pick the ones with the smaller offenses to root for. The special quirks of the characters also tend to make them stand out from each other, such as Big Chris hurting and maiming people while telling his son to buckle his seat belt and not to use profane language. With all the movies that are made in America about showing the slice of life in the gangster's life, this movie succeeds where others fail.

For first time writer and director Ritchie, this movie was a great first outing. If there is any justice in this world, he will learn from the few mistakes in this film and go on to make better movies. I highly recommend this movie -- it is fun, fast-paced, and a good time.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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