Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
Best of British gangland caper that has yet to be beaten.
1998. A year in which British cinema belonged to one movie; Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. One of those movies that has become something of a national treasure, Lock Stock (as I shall now refer to it) now ranks up there with the elite of classic British cinema, earning itself a place alongside the likes of The Long Good Friday and Get Carter.
Where Lock Stock goes off at a tangent from it's gangster peers though is in it's full-on British sense of humour. As much a comedy as it is a tale of gangland dealings and debt, the movie succeeds both in it's sideways view of the larger than life characters that populate London's seedy underbelly and also the portrayal of it's perpetually jinxed protagonists. Our heroes, such as they are, are a group of four friends each contributing ?25,000 in a high-stakes game of cards. There's Eddy (Nick Moran), the card pro and smalltime street conman, his friend and flatmate Bacon (Jason Statham) who's the muscle of the group, Tom AKA The Fat Man (Jason Flemyng) who has a nice line in black market fencing, and Soap (Dexter Fletcher), the only member of the group to earn an honest living working as a chef.
When Eddy takes the groups' hundred grand and loses to cheating gangland psycho and part-time porn king "Hatchet" Harry Lonsdale (P.H. Moriarty), he finds himself owing the infamous kingpin half a million pounds. With Lonsdale's right hand man Barry The Baptist (the late Lenny McLean) promising to start taking fingers from each of the friends and reclaim Eddy's father's bar unless the money appears quickly, Eddy and the boys decide the only course of action is to rob their neighbours who are themselves a gang of ruthless criminals planning a big score.
If things sound complicated enough for the boys then the worst is yet to come. The neighbours Eddy and co. are ripping off are themselves stealing money and marijuana from a group of middle-class wasters in the employ of local afro-sporting maniac Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), and they're about to try and sell him back his own stolen weed. In addition, Lonsdale has requested two antique shotguns worth a quarter of a million be stolen from a stately home, only they end up being mistakenly sold to The Fat Man for use in the robbery. As if things weren't bad enough, Lonsdale sets legendary debt collector Big Chris (the everimposing Vinnie Jones) in amongst the stool pidgeons to reclaim his money and his guns, and you just know things are going to get messy.
The genius of Lock Stock is that despite the extraordinarily complex setup, writer/director Guy Ritchie keeps such a firm grip on things that the hour fifty running time never once seems rushed. Instead, the superlative pacing lets the eclectic character set expand to fill their scenes beautifully, rounding out the movie to an extremely satisfying degree. Thanks chiefly to the cast and some superb (if highly contrived) dialogue that owes more than a nod to Mr Tarantino, Lock Stock fairly flies along, eventually leaving the viewer feeling cheated that it doesn't run for another two hours.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with the trained members of the team demonstrating some superb comic timing and a real eye for the offbeat, whilst Ritchie wisely plays to the strengths of non-actors such as McLean and uses them for greater comic effect. The result is a veritable smorgasbord of offbeat hoodlums and gangster wannabes that play off each other beautifully as the unlikely events unfold, masking minor flaws in plot logic and believability with ease.
If any criticism is to be levelled at Ritchie's debut it's few, far-between and largely irrelevant. As affectionate a nod as it is to the shady goings'on of East Laahndaan, the plot and events portrayed are tosh of the highest order, the dialogue is massively tailored to seem as cool as possible, and quite frankly without subtitles anyone outside of the UK is going to be utterly lost as to what's going on. At the end of the day, however, Lock Stock is as aware of these facts as anyone else and plays it's hand for exactly what it is; a royal flush of comic genius that never sets out to take itself seriously and delivers more entertainment than you can shake a shotgun at.
That ritchie went on to create the equally entertaining pseudo-sequel Snatch came as little disguise, such is the richness of the seam he unearthed in this first outing. That his third outing proved such a disappointment is a shame more than an embarassment. We can forgive Ritchie many sins, for with this outing the boy done so much good we could just about turn a blind eye if he sparked World War Three. Quintessentially British in every possible respect, homegrown cinema just doesn't get any better than this.
From my island sculpted entirely of milk lollies I award this pick-chur 5 out of 5 Giant Invisible Bumble Bees.
Jason Statham (Bacon)
Dexter Fletcher (Soap)
Jason Flemyng (Tom AKA The Fat Man)
Vinnie Jones (Big Chris)
Steven Mackintosh (Winston)
P.H. Moriarty (Harry "The Hatchet" Lonsdale)
Vas Blackwood (Rory Breaker)
Lenny McLean (Barry The Baptist)