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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Rated R, 106 min. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Stratham, Sting.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 19, 1999

Already a tremendous hit in its native England, this turbo-charged debut by Guy Ritchie (previously known only for a handful of energetic television commercials) is a wild, kinetic take on the traditional caper film, one that takes the conventions of the genre and gives them a decidedly U.K. twist -- Johnny Rotten circa 1977 couldn't have directed a more joyously obnoxious bit of tomfoolery. With a plot as convoluted as the East-Ender accents that pepper the production (as in Trainspotting, subtitles are sporadically necessary here), Ritchie and a spot-on cast of mostly newcomers steamroll through the proceedings at a cool 210 kilometers per second. At least that's what it seems like, given the director's penchant for including presumably every one of his stylistic tricks within the frame (and frequently within the same shot -- slow motion, speeded-up action, skewed angles, bizarre opticals, and anything else he can think of). The story centers around four friends -- Eddie (Moran), Tom (Flemyng), Bacon (Stratham), and Soap (Fletcher) -- who go in on an illegal card game hoping to double their money. Unbeknownst to ringer Eddie, the game is rigged, and he not only loses the group's initial investment, but he also ends up owing cantankerous crime boss Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) an awful 500,000 pounds. With Harry's vicious debt collector Big Chris (Chelsea footballer Jones) on their tail, not to mention the entirely evil, disturbingly silent Barry the Baptist (McLean), the boys have to raise the offending amount or end up floating face down in the drink. Any number of subplots litter Ritchie's film like shell casings in the wake of Big Chris: The boys' next-door neighbors, led by the spotty, dotty Winston, fancy themselves world-class drug dealers (they're far too high on ganja to get much work done, though) and scheme to rip off local kingpin Rory (Blackwood), while Barry the Baptist is off on his own mission to secure a pair of antique hunting rifles for his boss. Add to that flashbacks, flash-forwards, and any number of one-off gags, and what you come up with is a film almost too British to swallow without the aid of a frothy pint of lager. For all its impenetrable rhyming slang, though, Lock, Stock is a breathtaking debut that recalls the hyperstylized violence of Tarantino melded with the classic British caper comedies of Ealing Studios. With such a frenetic, brain-melting load of images to ponder, it's easy to forget that there are also some terrific actors at work here, not the least of whom is the amazing Vinnie Jones. As Big Chris, he's not only a deadly, leather-jacketed killer in the service of the Bad Guys, but also a devoted dad who brings his young son, Little Chris, along for every round of GBH. It's these kinds of heartwarming touches that nail Ritchie and Lock, Stock as two shivs in a gullet, violent visionaries with audacious, outrageous senses of humor as well.
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