Longtime friends and small-time criminals Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher) and Bacon (Jason Statham) put together enough money so that Eddy can have a seat at one of “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale’s (P. H. Moriarty) weekly three card brag games. Unbeknownst to Eddy, the game turns out to be rigged and he ends up massively indebted to Harry to the sum of 500,000 pounds. Though Harry gives him a week to pay off the debt, he expects Eddy not to make the payment and sets his sights on his father JD’s (Sting) bar as repayment, sending his debt collector Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) out to ensure that payment of some form is being made.
Desperate to raise up enough cash with so little time available, Eddy and his three friends set out to rob their criminal neighbor Dog (Frank Harper), who’s planning a heist of his own on some nearby marijuana growers. With so many incompetent crooks ultimately going after the same loot, chaos is bound to ensue.
The one downside to Pulp Fiction, one of my favorite movies of all-time, is that it led to every Tarantino wannabe coming out of the woodwork. Copycats of Pulp Fiction’s style and tone (Things to Do in Denver… When You’re Dead, American Strays, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Very Bad Things) desperately sought the same attention that the Oscar-winning 1995 film garnered, but failed. The reason I bring this up is ’cause if anyone has been able to capture the same vibe that Tarantino brought to Pulp Fiction and his breakthrough Reservoir Dogs without feeling like a carbon copy ripoff, it’s Britain’s very own Guy Ritchie, aka the former Mr. Madonna.
If Quentin Tarantino, Danny Boyle and just a touch of Elmore Leonard came together and contributed their DNA toward making a clone, you’d get Guy Ritchie.
Despite the similarities to the two aforementioned Oscar-winning filmmakers (more so with the former) and the late, great novelist, Ritchie himself has cited Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrel’s biggest influence to be John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday from 1980, which featured Bob Hoskins in his breakthrough role and was one of a number of British crime flicks that opened throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Toward the end of the ’80s and midway through the next decade, the genre fizzled a bit as both Merchant Ivory and Richard Curtis began representing Queen and Country for the time being. But at the tail end of the 20th century, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, along with Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey brought on a 21st century renaissance of stylishly dark British crime films that would continue on with Ritchie’s followup Snatch, Sexy Beast, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Layer Cake (producer Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut), In Bruges, RocknRolla (also Ritchie’s), The Bank Job, Bronson and so on.
The film’s narrative leans heavily on ironic plot twists, so the less you know going in, the better. Trust me when I say the synopsis up above is only a dent in the larger picture of what takes place. As the story unfolds, Ritchie keeps us in the dark as unexpected turns pop up and heighten the excitement of the film. From beginning to end, the film shows no signs of lagging or letting up, and unlike other films, particularly those within the caper genre, that suffer from a third act that gradually runs out of gas, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels benefits from a buildup of twist after twist, all decorated in Ritchie’s exuberant style, that culminates in a delightfully explosive final act.
Along with his strong grasp of pacing, Ritchie also shows a strong grasp of tone. Even at its most brutal, the film never loses sight of its sense of fun or comical edge. Of course, that’s largely in part to Ritchie’s filmmaking touch, but a good deal of credit also belongs to the cast, which features Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham in their debut film roles. Of course, Statham would later go on to become easily the most recognizable name out of the bunch, though not at the time of this film’s release. Jones’s later career would find him cashing in steady paychecks playing typecast tough guys, but here he nevertheless steals every scene he’s in as a mob enforcer who’s as ruthless as they come yet still has enough moral fiber to draw a line at foul language being spoken around his son (Jones shares a great rapport with Peter McNicholl as his son, aptly named Little Chris).
Though average American audiences may not recognize the more experienced actors (save former Police frontman/bassist Sting in a nice role similar to the one he had in Stormy Monday), P. H. Moriarty, who co-starred with Bob Hoskins in the aforementioned The Long Good Friday, and the late Lenny McLean are convincingly menacing as the gambling/porn kingpin and his muscle, respectively.
With so many interweaving characters (no joke, there has to be at least twenty roles that, if not a lead, at least play a significant part) story threads and all the twists and turns, the wrong hands could’ve quickly turned this into a convoluted mess. One or two elements of the plot may become a little more clearer on a second viewing, but the labyrinth story never becomes distractingly crowded, and it’s a testament to Ritchie’s skill in how he holds everything together.
We can beat up Swept Away all day like the red-headed stepchild of Ritchie’s career that it is, and it’s unfortunate that post-Snatch, only one out of his five films has been good – RocknRolla. Inconsistent career aside, when Ritchie’s on his A-game, the man can really deliver.
A fun and exciting debut for both writer/director Guy Ritchie and co-star Jason Statham, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels thrives on Ritchie’s energetic style and pacing, witty dialogue and a stellar mix of veteran and newcomer talent. Some viewers might understandably find Ritchie’s loaded use of story and characters a bit much to sit through, but those looking for a slick, twisted and grimy crime caper will find plenty to enjoy here.