Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels

on March 05, 1999 by Ray Greene
   If nothing else, give the makers of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" credit for truth in titling. A giddy compendium of every hipster noir cliche of the past 10 years, Guy Ritchie's "Trainspotting"-meets-"Reservoir Dogs" caper comedy proves that anyone who believes young filmmakers have outgrown the cycle of slapstick violence initiated by the rise of Quentin Tarantino back in 1992 has another think coming. Not that this movie encourages anyone to think hard.
   Like "Trainspotting," "Lock, Stock..." concerns the misadventures of a small band of twentysomething thugs in contemporary England, nominally headed by Eddie (Nick Moran), a would-be high-roller. Though petty criminals all, the boys manage to raise 100,000 pounds (that's about $160,000 to you and me), which Eddie promptly loses to the evil card cheat Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) in a high-stakes poker game which leaves our heroes an additional 500,000 pounds ($800,000) in debt. With one week to save themselves from annihilation, the boys decide to rip off a big cocaine and cash score from their next-door neighbors--drug dealers who are planning to knock over their own suppliers for a cool 2 million pounds.
   It's colorful thief against colorful thief in a quirky, complicated and all-too-familiar scenario, punctuated by the requisite scenes of entire roomfuls of gunmen drawing down on each other after the style of Hong Kong blood poet John Woo. Inexplicably praised in Europe for his originality, Ritchie proves himself the Rich Little of young cinematic turks, a gifted mimic whose diction and intonation is flawlessly imitative, but somehow comes across as a burlesque of the original source.
   In part, this may be because at bottom, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" is a movie with absolutely nothing to say. Now that Quentin Tarantino has managed to utilize his lack of acting skills to undermine his very real gifts as a writer/director, it's easy to forget that all three of his major directing efforts were about something. "Reservoir Dogs" revolves around classical gangster themes of loyalty and betrayal; "Pulp Fiction" hinged on Sam Jackson's choice to give up violence for redemption; and "Jackie Brown," which had the courage to cast relatively unknown middle-aged actors in its central roles, was all about missed opportunities and second chances. With its gonzo camerawork, a hyperactive song score so relentless it's as if someone left a radio on during the final sound mix, and with four attractive young British boys who would be more believable playing the boyfriends in "Spice Girls: The Sequel," "Lock, Stock..." is style without a trace of substance, the Looney Toons epidermis of Tarantino and his army of imitators, with the heart of a "Three Stooges" short palpitating underneath. At Sundance, where "Lock, Stock..." had its U.S. premiere, Ritchie fans were at great pains to point out that the film is already a sizable success in Europe, which is absolutely true. Maybe this proves that Ritchie is a talent to watch. But another explanation suggests itself as well. Thanks to the post-Tarantino focus of many specialized distributors on finding exploitable and ultimately disposable young talent to feed to the MTV set, a certain segment of indie filmmaking now functions according to prerequisites like those of pop music, where pre-tested formulas get repackaged every few years for that segment of the public which has discovered the joys of puberty, part-time jobs and disposable income in the interval since any given formula's last go-round. Though "Pulp Fiction" is but five years old, there's already a sizable audience consisting of teenagers who couldn't get into an R-rated movie like "Pulp" back in 1994. While "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" may be just the first-run ticket for each and every one of them, it's all awfully dull to any regular filmgoer who started the decade past the age of consent. Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh and Nicholas Rowe. Directed and written by Guy Ritchie. Produced by Matthew Vaughn. A Gramercy release. Comedy. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality and drug content. Running time: 108 min
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