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'Lock, Stock': Loaded With Gibes

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 1999

  Movie Critic

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Four blokes from London star in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." (Gramercy)

Guy Ritchie
Jason Flemyng;
Dexter Fletcher;
Nick Moran;
Jason Statham;
Steven Mackintosh;
Vinnie Jones;
Running Time:
1 hour, 45 minutes
Contains obscenity, violence and cockney accents
"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" is a special weapon unto itself. Spring-loaded with cockney esprit, it peppers its audience with aggressive, sarcastic grapeshot. That's English for "fun," by the way. While this movie doesn't take itself seriously and takes the mickey out of violent movies, it's almost intimidating in the undertaking. As characters make brutal confrontations of most every conversation – or just plain beat on each other – you don't know whether to laugh or duck.

Anyway, there's four blokes in London's East End: Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), Bacon (Jason Statham) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher). They're a cocky lot, always after a good scheme to make money. They're mates, although you wouldn't know it by the sarcasm that ricochets around the room when they start gabbing.

When the lads dispatch Eddy, a card shark, to win a big game, he loses big – not realizing he's a sucker in a cheating scheme cribbed directly from "Goldfinger." Eddy comes back with bad news: He owes 500,000 pounds (about $800,000, give or take) to Harry the Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty), a nasty geezer who takes nonpayments very seriously. It's time to take proactive measures.

What transpires is the kind of quintessentially, broad-as-a-barn English caper you used to see in the 1960s and 1970s. In keeping with that tradition, "Lock, Stock . . ." is the narrative equivalent of a steeplechase race, with everyone climbing over each other's back to get to the elusive prize. But this movie has a "Krays"-like mien, with characters named Nick the Greek, Harry Lonsdale and Dog. It's not cute so much as cutting, as everyone tries to kill each other to get to the prize: in this case, a bag full of cash and two antique rifles worth a mint.

Writer/director Guy Ritchie, a former director of commercials, has a sort of anything-goes approach to filmmaking. Whatever works, works. "Lock, Stock . . ." is suffused with obtuse camera angles, freeze frames and split screens. And it moves from episode to episode with an almost willy-nilly spirit.

In many cases, the film seems to have been cast rather than written: The late Lenny McLean, who was Great Britain's greatest knuckle fighter, gets a bit part as Barry the Baptist, right hand man to Hatchet Harry. Sting has a small role, too, as a pub proprietor whose bar gets put up as collateral. As a football (as in football) supporter, I had a blast watching Vinnie Jones in his debut role. Jones, you should know, is one of the most storied, dirty players in soccer. And I say that with the deepest affection. Seeing him playing a tough debt collector called Big Chris, who's also devoted to his little son, was an unexpected source of amusement.

Watching Jones – and this movie – is a sort of peanut gallery experience. You wait for the occasional cheap giggle, bizarre surprise or clever twist; you listen to the delightfully inventive patter of the East End; and you enjoy the surly, sarcastic presence of four English blokes just trying to get out of trouble, so they can get right back to the pub where they belong in the first place.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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