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Review: Guns at play in 'Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels'

Web posted on:
Friday, March 12, 1999 3:20:57 PM EST

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Why is it, I wonder, that the British are so good at coopting American forms of cinema, but when Americans try to steal from the Brits, they end up looking like idiots? You could approach the question from a number of interesting angles, but, since I'm better at asking questions than I am at answering them, I probably wouldn't come up with the definitive explanation anyway.

It may very well be that Americans are no good at stuff like "Howards End" or "A Room With a View" because they really are idiots. Let's face it, there's a good chance you were stewing over some moron's incompetence no more than an hour ago, and the film industry is by no means exempt. If your particular moron moves to L.A., and has some nice slacks, he could end up running a studio in a couple of years. You, of course, will be demoted.

So writer/director Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels" is an often ingratiating riff on your basic Tarantino riff, done by a bunch of Englishmen who obviously have more going for them than, say, the guys who made the just as Tarantino-aping Denis Leary movie, "Underworld." (That is, if you saw "Underworld." The fact that you didn't is all you really need to know.)

All the "Reservoir Pulp Dogs" trademarks are in place. You've got a bunch of lovable-but-violent lugs planning a robbery. The humor is usually dialogue-based, and the dialogue rambles on endlessly. There are rather benign characters on the fringes of the crime who aren't really involved, but can still get badly hurt. There's a knock-out soundtrack comprised of roaring electric guitar riffs and well-chosen oldies. And, when people get shot and blood splatters everywhere, you're supposed to laugh because there's a spaghetti-spray of epidermal matter hanging on the wall.

Dialogue the key

I think the dialogue may be the real key to this stuff. There's something funny about the way British people say something funny. I'm a big Monty Python fan (although I draw the line at the Python-nerd calling card, reciting the dead parrot sketch out loud in order to "impress" people.)

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And I'm convinced that a lot of the troupe's best routines would lie there like a ... a thing lying there ... if they were delivered word-for-word by a bunch of Yanks. That same wacky slang and jabbering rhythm kept me hanging with "Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels" for a while, but the movie itself eventually wore out its welcome.

It operates on the multiple-double-cross scheme, with three different groups of people trying to steal (or keep in their possession) a bunch of ill-gotten money. Group One is who we're most concerned with. It consists of four buddies who get into extremely hot water when the card shark amongst them (played by Nick Moran, who's handsome and a pretty good actor) winds up owing a local crime lord 500,000 pounds after losing a high stakes poker game. (The crime lord cheats.)

Moran and his friends are held responsible for the debt -- if they don't pay up in a week, they'll each lose a finger for every day the money is overdue. In other words, it's only 17 days until they'll be having a great deal of trouble gripping a pint at the pub.

A get-rich-quick scheme

So Moran and his pals have to get rich quick. They eventually decide to rob the guys who live on the other side of their building because -- here's a lucky break -- they can hear them through the wall planning a big heist. The neighbors are hoping to steal the tons of cash that a bunch of local (and very harmless) cannabis growers have piling up all over their flat. There's also a subplot involving a couple of stolen antique muskets (the two smoking barrels of the title), and it involves the crime lord who was cheating at the card game.

All of these guys converge (in a wide variety of configurations) at various times during the movie, at which point they make snide remarks in thick Cockney accents and usually end up shooting each other. (One of the pot growers passes out from fear, then gets his entire foot blown off by a shotgun blast while he's in dreamland.)

No one really knows what's going on with the other schemers, and the money repeatedly changes hands. The police, quite surprisingly, have very little to do with the plot. I guess they're not considered interesting characters because they don't carry guns in England. (My fellow New Yorkers will be pleased to know that if you reach for your wallet in London, the cops will only yell at you 41 times.)

I've been pretty surprised by the exalted reviews all of this has been receiving. It's not like you haven't seen anything like it before, regardless of what some people are saying. It's just that there are a lot of wordy jokes that ring true and the music keeps it all hopping when it's on the verge of getting tiresome. But, as I've already noted, it does eventually get tiresome.

After every other round robin with the various participants, you feel that, surely, the movie's over now. But the music starts jamming again and off you go. I think what's really going on with these critics is that we're all desperate for a good movie, and this one looks sorta like one, so it deserves lots of reviews with exclamation points in them. Go see it if you're in the mood. You're bound to get a chuckle, but don't expect too much ... not that I have to tell you that anymore.

There're copious amounts of bad language in "Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels," as well as the violence. But even that isn't as bad as it could be. No one seems capable of turning down a beer or a joint, either. Look for Sting as the father of one of the criminals. My God! How old am I?!! Rated R. 105 minutes.

Review: 'Jackie Brown' -- There's no place like homeboy
January 5, 1998
'Get Shorty' long on realism
October 19, 1995

Official 'Lock, Stock..." site (requires Shockwave)
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