Polygram // 1998 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // September 6th, 1999
A disgrace to criminals everywhere.
A seedy London crime caper rolls off the boat from England to mystify, amuse, and in general entertain us Yanks.
I've always had a taste for British comedy and cinema, because with no other country can you understand the words and yet have absolutely no idea what they are saying. The typical mix of actors provide a welcome break from the usual, with their distinctive appearance, speech, and acting styles that set them apart from your usual Hollywood fare. Whether you want absurd comedy (Monty Python), delicious political drama (House of Cards), classic mystery (Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes stories), or more, it's usually worth your time.
A word of gentle warning -- if this is your first exposure to British speech patterns and slang, then you might have some rough going, but stick with it, it will be worth the ride. The handy guide to cockney rhyming slang on the disc may come in handy!
The story really starts up when we are introduced to Eddy (Nick Moran) and his buddies Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Bacon (Jason Statham), and Tom (Jason Flemyng). Eddie is an excellent gambler with a deck of cards, as he can read even the smallest of reactions. With the help of his friends, he has assembled a £ 100,000 bankroll to permit him entry into a high-stakes game run by local crime boss and porn king "Hatchet" Harry (P.H. Moriarty). They figure to make a pretty penny with the help of Eddy's skill.
As Eddy and pals are planning for the game, we meet his neighbor, surly drug dealer Dog (Frank Harper), and then we skip over to meet Charles, also known as J (Nicholas Rowe, remember him from Young Sherlock Holmes?) and Willie, your (too) friendly neighborhood marijuana growers who seem to be making money hand over fist, but with little concern for their own security, much to the annoyance of their "brains," Winston (Steven Mackintosh). Next on our tour is Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) and his mini-me son Little Chris (Peter McNicholl), who earn a living collecting debts for Harry.
Now that the stage is set, we learn that the card game is all a set-up by Harry, helped by his frightening right-hand man "Barry the Baptist" (Lenny McLean), aimed at getting his hands at the bar owned by Eddy's dad, J.D. (Sting). Harry also has his eyes on some antique shotguns, and sends Barry out to recruit a couple of "muppets" Dean (Jake Abraham) and Kenny (Stephen Callender-Ferrier) to steal them.
The shotguns are stolen and the game is fixed, leaving Eddy and his pals £ 500,000 in debt to "Hatchet" Harry, and with only a week to pay up before they all start losing fingers thanks to Barry. Eddie and pals are frantic to figure out a way to save their skins, and Eddie is at rock bottom when he hears Dog and his pal Plank Steve Sweeney) discussing a plan to rob the successful ganja growers Winston, Charles, and Willie. Eddie realizes just how much money and goods is being discussed, and quickly gets his pals to agree to ambush the robbers. Plans are made with local fixer Nick the Greek (Steven Marcus) to obtain a couple of shotguns and to fence the expected windfall of weed.
As it turns out, the "muppets" have sold the antique shotguns to Nick the Greek, much to the anger of Barry, who orders them to get the shotguns back or start "counting the fingers they don't have." Big Chris has also paid a visit to J.D., telling him that if he turns over the bar that his son won't be killed when he doesn't pay up. J.D. is a hard father, and tells Big Chris in no uncertain terms that Eddy and pals are on their own.
As Dog and his crew spring into action for the robbery, Eddy and his pals get set up for their own ambush. The robbery is not as quick and smooth as Dog wanted, leading to a series of darkly humorous events, including a traffic warden (cop) who just picks the wrong van to ticket. In the end, they make off with the great heaping piles of loot and walk straight into Eddy's ambush.
Things get sticky when Nick the Greek's contact to move the weed is Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), the same hard-core dealer who our friendly ganja growers were working for! Rory is quite peeved, and vows retribution. Sticky is stickier when Plank literally uses his head and finds out that Eddy and friends were spying on them to set up the ambush. Now Dog is seething with thoughts of revenge, and it doesn't look good for our amateur criminals. At the same time, the "muppets" are frantic to get their antique shotguns back, only to get stiffed by Nick the Greek.
Rory and pals, armed to the teeth, come a knockin' for Eddy's crew, only to find Dog and pals similarly armed, and in the aftermath of a confused gun battle Big Chris waltzes in and takes the antique shotguns (having been liberated by Dog from Eddy's apartment), much to the aggravation of our "muppets" who trace Big Chris to "Hatchet" Harry's business. Dean and Kenny are dogged (stupid, but dogged), and since they don't know that Harry hired them through Barry in the first place, further darkly humorous mishaps are inevitable!
Eddy and his friends survive their adventures alive and unharmed, but they are still dirt poor, having lost their original £100,000 investment. Or did they? Big Chris interrupts their miserable commiserations with a little present, and the movie ends with a sublimely funny moment which I dare not spoil here!
In addition to the cockney rhyming slang guide, the extras include a brief featurette (with cast and crew interviews), reasonably extensive cast and crew bio/filmographies, the original U.S. and U.K. theatrical trailers, a very brief two page color insert with some production notes, and the preferred Amaray keep case. I recommend a comparison of the two trailers, as it is interesting the very different ways the film was pitched to the two audiences. Finally, menus are movie themed but static.
Though mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, this is not going to be an audio mix that will test the limits of your system, but this should not be a surprise. I would suspect that a low-budget film such as this doesn't have the quid to spare for a real rock 'em sock 'em audio mix, and it is nice on occasion not to get blasted out of your seats. (For that, just wait for the techno-soundtrack period drama Plunkett and Macleane, which I saw recently in a London theater on its U.K. release date.) The dialogue is clear (whether understandable depends on how hard you can concentrate on the slang), there is limited channel separation, and your subwoofer will have only an occasional thing to do (mostly when the Bren gun gets used). I do have to note that this is one of the grooviest soundtracks in a while, with quite a number of older rock and roll, soul, and blues sorts of songs. Still, a pleasing effort overall.
The actors are a very realistic looking and sounding lot, at least to this Yank. There are no simple, one-sided characters here, as everyone has their own unique perspective on life. They do well with their roles, helping us to truly believe the terribly urban, gritty world they live in. Our "heroes," Eddy and his friends, are well done as generally amiable people thrust into a desperate situation with some very tough-guy sorts of people. Big Chris is a hilarious delight, as the intimidating bill collector who has definite rules of conduct and standards of behavior! Vas Blackwood (as Rory Breaker) does an excellent job in being icy and menacing while looking like an extra from a Shaft movie. Also, in contrast to the last time I saw him in Dune, Sting has learned the art of restrained acting, as this role does not have him chewing the scenery with such over the top abandon.
Many comparisons are made between Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Pulp Fiction. I think this does a disservice to both films. While each film does present a very realistic modern story about interconnected groups of criminal activities, each does so with a very different sensibility, cinematographic style, and ultimate intent. Each should be enjoyed on its own terms. Here, we have an intensely gritty story, which hardly seems to belong in a modern developed country like the U.K. The dialogue is snappy and tells us as much in what is said as what is not, and the look of the run down urban locations tells us more about the lives of our characters than we ever would need to know. It was a pleasure to watch the story wind to the conclusion, almost as if watching a juggler keep so many balls in the air and wondering how he'll get them all down. If I had any complaint about the story, it would be that the resolution of the conflict between so many forces seems a bit too neat, but it's a minor quibble.
The video is not going to be a reference standard any time soon. It appears that the look of the movie was partly a deliberate choice and partly a result of the limited budget, and not much fault of the transfer. The colors in the film tend to have a muted, de-saturated look (the most extreme example of this being Saving Private Ryan), and frequently the scenes have an odd, almost sepia tone to them. I believe that this was a deliberate choice to emphasize the tough urban environment, and it's an effective one! Film grain and video noise are prevalent, as is a fair amount of dirt and blemishes. The picture is a bit soft, but contrast is okay and blacks are solid.
With drama, action, and black humor all well done in an English setting, I highly recommend a rental. It should make a nice change of pace from more Hollywood choices. If this sort of film is your taste, the price ($25) is right for a purchase, so have at it!
Mister Justice Sylvain directs that the defendant be permitted to leave the dock without delay and is most certainly acquitted.
Review content copyright © 1999 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* US and UK Theatrical Trailers
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Production Featurette
* Cockney Dictionary