Posted: 09/16/1999


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels


by Del Harvey

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Violence, a smart mouth, and half a bad idea have led many a poor boy astray. That seems to be the message in this British import chock full of one-liners, intercut vignettes, and great music. We are introduced to the cast of characters through brief sequences, a la the new shorthand of the music video. This is appropriate for director Guy Ritchie, whose previous experience has been limited to music videos and commercials for TV. Still, the vignette style lends itself to this ska-gangsta film, a sort of tribute to both Quentin Tarantino and the ultra-violent B movies that came out of Hollywood and France in the ’50s and ’60s.

Our four main characters are Jason Flemyng (Tom), Dexter Fletcher (Soap), Nick Moran (Eddie), and Jason Stratham (Bacon), who are basically four young lads in search of a direction. They come up with the rather unintelligent idea of sending their ace cardshark, Eddie, to a regular poker game held by the local head gangster by the name of “Hatchet” Harry, whose sign on the front of his establishment bears the proclamation, “Porn King.” He’s been around for a while and knows more than a thing or two, yet our lads think their natural card wizard can get one over on him. So they send the young boy into the lion’s den and settle down to have a drink at the Samoan pub next door. Soon the boy has returned, minus the 100,000 pounds required to play in the game and not only that, but they are all four into Hatchet Harry for another 150 large because that’s how much he lost. They have one week to pay up or Harry’s senior henchman, Barry the Baptist (so named for drowning his victims) shall pay them a visit and remove a digit from their hands for each day they have not paid.

Desperate, our lads concoct another scheme involving the theft of large sums of money and marijuana from their neighbors, who happen to be the toughest gang in old London town. The black comedy of errors continues right until the last scene, involving still more small gang-related factions scattered about town but somehow all tied in to Harry.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS is mostly entertaining, if you don’t mind a lot of senseless violence and rude behavior —- well, the cast is 99.9% men, so what else would you expect? The one girl in the film is comatose for the first half, then grabs a gun and shoots one of the many bad guys, then is knocked out. That is that last we see of her.

It’s heartening to note that the few black characters in this Limey pic aren’t treated any differently than anyone else; the matter of race is not relevant to the film or its characters. There is no bad-mouthing of either race, no unusual or over the top generalizations —- everyone is pretty much just a little boy playing a dangerous game.

My biggest complaint is that the film is too long. For a film made up of short vignettes, there is too much story near the middle, when we should be well on our way towards the caper. And there is a gratuitous segment roughly 2/3 of the way into the film where our four lads spend a night at the local bar getting soused in slow motion, underscored with a nice little jazzy ditty. The whole scene does nothing for the film except slow it down further.

Although American audiences probably will not recognize most of the actors, there is one name that stands out: Sting plays the cardshark Eddy’s dad, owner of a very nice bar which Hatchet Harry covets. Sting plays his character with real strength and bravado, showing a very tough side that was only hinted at in earlier roles such as Dune, Stormy Monday, and Brimstone & Treacle. His appearance is a welcome dose of reality in an otherwise childish story of boys being boys.

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS is an enjoyable watch, but not an outstanding first effort. Guy Ritchie shows promise and may do better things in the future; as long as there is a producer with enough common sense to make sure he doesn’t edit together more movie than is needed.

Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He is a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

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