There was a moment there at the turn of the century when director Guy Ritchie seemed poised to be the next Quentin Tarantino. He followed up his debut “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” with the insanely fast-moving, generally enjoyable “Snatch.” Somehow, though, Ritchie never turned into a Tarantino-esque film-god. I think that the problem is that his movies never felt as consequential as what Tarantino was doing. There was lots of fast-paced action, with speeded-up film shots, and cockney accents that required subtitles, but there was no heart.
“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” is a good case in point. The movie has several story lines filled with potentially interesting characters whose stories wind up intersecting. Ritchie never does anything with these scamps, however, other than to establish that they are lowlifes engaged in ripping off other lowlifes. He never made me care enough about any of them to care much what happens in the story.
The main characters, the ones we are theoretically supposed to root for, include Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Eddy (Nick Moran), and Bacon (Jason Statham). These are low-level scumbags who hawk stolen wares and such. Eddy fancies himself a card player as well, and the boys pool their funds to get Eddy into a high-stakes poker game run by a gangster named Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty). The game is a racket, as any idiot should have known. Harry not only cheats, he bullies Eddy into accepting credit in order to call a hand, which Eddy goes on to lose. Owing Harry a quarter-million pounds, Eddy leaves the game in a daze, and explains to his friends that Harry and his goons will be holding all of them responsible for the debt.
There's no way these guys can scrape up that kind of money on either side of the law, but when they overhear their neighbors planning a robbery, they hatch a plan to rob the robbers. Hijinks ensue.
There are several different groups of hoodlums, who are hard to tell apart at times, and much of the dialogue is unintelligible due to the thick, Cockney accents. The movie could still be quite good, however, if any of the characters had any sort of saving grace, which they don't. They are not only wicked, they are stupid. Fortunately, many of these assholes wind up killing each other off, which is about the only satisfaction the audience gets.
The problem with “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” as a debut for Guy Ritchie is that its failures are not due to low budget or cinematography. Those are weaknesses you would expect in a first-time director, and easily fixable on future projects. “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” however suffers from a lack of heart, which I think is why Ritchie never lived up to his hyped potential.
2 stars out of 5