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 said? Because if you don't, I'll kill ya.
The saga of how "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" came to be mirrors the film's rags-to-riches plot. Initially, writer/director Guy Ritchie had trouble securing financial backing for his debut feature. However, like a comedy of errors, this former music video and commercials managed to secure the financing and players needed to get the project off the ground. The result was one of the United Kingdom's domestic success stories of 1998, a film whose box office take vastly outdistanced its measly $2 million budget and earned itself several 'film of the year' honors. Now, "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" has skipped across the pond to delight North American audiences with its flashy style and nasty streak of black humor.
Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng, last seen in "The Red Violin"), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Bacon (Jason Statham) are four small-time thieves with big ambitions. Together, they have put in enough money for Eddy to challenge local kingpin 'Hatchet' Harry Lonsdale (P.H. Moriarty of "The Long Good Friday", one source of inspiration for this film) to a game of high-stakes poker. And though Eddy is a master card player who almost never loses, he is no match for Harry's underhanded efforts which include having his right-hand man Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean, who died shortly after the film was completed) spy on Eddy's hand with a video camera.
As a result, Eddy not only loses the game, but he ends up being in hock for half-a-million pounds, which he must repay by the end of the week. However, Eddy is not the only one on the line-- the rest of the quartet are also given equal responsibility in coming up with the money, or else Harry's hatchet man, Big Chris (soccer player Vinnie Jones) will start cutting off fingers for every day late. With little time to find the money, the foursome come up with a daring scheme-- steal the money from Eddy's neighbor (Frank Harper), who has plans to rip off a group of geeky ganja growers employed by a local drug lord (Vas Blackwood). In addition to these principal characters, Ritchie's often-convoluted script throws in a couple of clueless hired thieves, a stoned girl (Suzy Ratner) with a knack for blending into the background, Big Chris' son (Peter McNicholl), a hapless parking control officer, and Eddy's father (Sting), who may forfeit his bar to cover his son's 'loan'. As the film's various story threads converge to a very satisfying conclusion, there will be a lot of unexpected plot twists, violent spats, and hilariously preposterous situations.
It is very easy to label "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" as derivative. In addition to the unavoidable comparisons to Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs", it's easy to spot the references to the British crime capers of yesteryear, "Trainspotting", and John Woo's orchestrations of violence. Furthermore, Ritchie uses every camera trick in the book, from the judicious use of slo-mo to documentary-style cinematography to odd camera angles. However, what truly sets Ritchie's film apart from 'all the other' edgy crime-dramas are the complex plot, great dialogue, and exuberant sense of humor.
While Tarantino would typically dwell on the violence, Ritchie focuses more on the comic consequences of the violence, allowing the audience to have a chuckle without feeling guilty. From the hilarious ineptitude of two thieves that are hired to retrieve a couple of antique rifles to the absurd relationship between Big Chris and his son, the laugh quotient in this film remains high and never seems to lose its manic energy. This is how a Tarantino-esque film should be, even more so than last year's under-appreciated "Out of Sight".
If you're weary of all those hip "Pulp Fiction"-wannabes, "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" may be the fix you've been looking for. With never a dull moment and an enthusiastic execution, Guy Ritchie has crafted himself a winner.