Universal // 1998 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 1st, 2009
A disgrace to criminals everywhere.
"If the milk turns sour, I ain't the kind of pussy to drink it."
Eddie (Nick Moran, The Musketeer) has gotten himself and his friends Tom (Jason Flemyng, Stardust), Soap (Dexter Fletcher, Layer Cake), and Bacon (Jason Statham, Crank) into a lot of trouble. Eddie has always been quite the card shark, so he was confident he would do well when he decided to engage in an illegal game of poker with a local thug (and certified "Porn King") Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty, Chaplin). Unfortunately, Eddie lost the game, and now he owes Harry 500,000 pounds. Eddie is given one week to pay up. If he doesn't take care of business within that time, Harry is going to start removing one finger from Eddie and each of his friends for every additional day that passes without payment being made.
Harry's not a nice guy in general, but he's feeling particularly upset right now. You see, he had plans to steal some antique guns that are worth quite a lot of money, and he hired Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean, The Fifth Element) to handle the job. Barry hired two thugs named Gary (Victor McGuire, The Black Dahlia) and Dean (Jake Abraham, American Cousins) to steal the guns. Gary and Dean did indeed steal some guns, but they made a mistake and gave Barry the wrong guns. What happened to the other guns? Um...Gary and Dean sold them to a guy named Nick the Greek (Stephen Marcus, Iris), because they didn't think they were worth much.
Meanwhile, Eddie is cooking up a plan to make a lot of money very quickly. He happens to overhear that his next-door neighbors are planning to rob some drug dealers. Eddie's idea is to steal the money from his neighbors after they steal the money from the drug dealers. They need guns in order to do the job, so they turn to their pal Nick the Greek. He gives them some guns. Guess which ones?
And that's only the oversimplified beginning of this wild, convoluted, twisty-turny-and-suddenly-your-knickers-are-in-a-bunch tale.
Though I have yet to see Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (a few weeks away from its theatrical release as of the writing of this review), thus far the British director has only proved himself capable of making one good film: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Sure, Snatch and RocknRolla were entertaining movies too, but that's just because they were barely-altered variations on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Revisiting Ritchie's breakout film for the first time in a long time, I was sort of surprised to discover that the director has not really evolved one bit since the release of this film. Sure, his budgets have gotten a little bit bigger and his films have looked slightly more polished since, but he's still very much the exact same director he was ten years ago.
It might not feel as fresh as it did upon its release (and even then it owed a great debt to the films of Quentin Tarantino), but Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is still an entertaining gangster flick that works due to a double-dose of energy, colorful characters and Ritchie's genuine gift for comic plotting. Like most of the director's films that have followed, this one is a Rube Goldberg-esque construction that takes great joy in sending characters from point A to point B in the most maddeningly coincidental and complicated manner possible. You can't afford to take a bathroom break (the joys of watching Ritchie's movies at home, eh?), but if you pay close attention you'll be rewarded with several joyous (though often violent) comic payoffs.
The most recognizable faces (other than Sting, obviously) for present-day viewers will undoubtedly be Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones, who both made their acting debuts in this film. As you might expect, they both play tough characters, though they each get to demonstrate a bit more sensitivity and nuance in this film than they have in most of their roles since. Granted, not a lot, but it's a little bit more. Statham's character is essentially a con artist, a man far more likely pick your pocket than bash in your skill. Jones plays a character who probably will bash in your skull, but he demonstrates an amusingly noble yet misguided affection for his young son (he doesn't want people swearing around his kid, though he has no problem exposing his boy to extreme violence).
The cast is engaging from top to bottom, though there is one more standout I'd like to mention. My favorite player in this convoluted game is Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), a perpetually exasperated drug dealer who has some of the most delightfully entertaining lines in the film (including dialogue so heavy on slang that Ritchie feels the need to provide explanatory subtitles). One of my favorite bits: "If you hold back anything, I'll kill ya. If you bend the truth or I think you're bending the truth, I'll kill ya. If you forget anything, I'll kill ya. In fact, you're gonna have to work very hard to stay alive, Nick. Now, do you understand everything I've just said? 'Cause if you don't, I'll kill ya!" It's a shame the actor has been given so little noteworthy work in the years since.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was filmed in 16mm, and it has a history of receiving very underwhelming transfers on DVD. Things have improved slightly on Blu-ray, but the source material is still so underwhelming. There's nothing that can be done about the thick-as-a-desert grain, but it's disappointing to note that so many scratches, flecks, hairs, and bits of dirt and grime have been left intact. The image also looks very soft on many occasions, and detail struggles considerably. The original yellow-ish tone of the movie has been restored, which is nice. This is the best the film has looked to date, but it still looks like a crappy low-budget B-movie from the '70s. It's very hard to believe this thing was made in 1998. Audio is a bit better, particularly when it comes to the R&B/Rock soundtrack, but still far from being an absolute knockout. Dialogue is just a tad muffled at times, but it's not too bad.
The supplements are weak, to say the least. You only get an old 11-minute featurette on the cinematography (actually interesting, but still), a 2-minute reel of all the cursing in the film, plus My Scenes and BD-Live. Why bother?
For all the moments of inventiveness Ritchie provides, there are some moments that just seem exceptionally self-indulgent. These don't really bother me, so I'm not going to harp on them, but I can easily see how some would roll their eyes at the juvenile hyperactivity on display.
Ritchie's entertaining little crime movie remains one of his most purely entertaining films. The Blu-ray release is a disappointing, though I don't know how much better it could have been. Too bad the supplemental package still sucks.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (German)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
* French (Canadian)
* Spanish (Castilian)
* Spanish (Mexican)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Swearing Reel
* My Scenes