Fans of Guy Ritchie's 1998 cult fave
_Lock,_Stock_and_Two_Smoking_Barrels_ will be happy to learn that
shacking up with Madonna and siring her a son have had no discernible
effect on the writer-director--at least not one noticeable in his second
film, _Snatch_. (There is, however, one blatant concession to the union,
and that is the prominent placement of the Material Girl's vintage tune
"Lucky Star"--hardly a bad thing, if you ask me.) In fact, nothing
appears to have affected or changed Ritchie at all between this latest
film and his last, for _Snatch_ is a full-throttle comedic crime caper
that more than resembles _Lock,_Stock..._ yet remains a rollicking good
time in its own right.
Like _Lock,_Stock..._ and just about every other entry in the
neo-noir-laffer genre, _Snatch_ takes an assortment of eccentric
characters and tosses them in a blender of danger, double-cross, dark
comedy, and a dog (OK, the last element is specific to this film). Our
guide through the convolutions of this twisty tale is Turkish (Jason
Statham), an unlicensed boxing promoter who is business partners and best
friends with Tommy (Stephen Graham), who is in the slot machine business.
When Turkish and Tommy's plans to fix a fight for bigwig Brick Top (Alan
Ford) go horribly awry, thus begins a chain of chaos that links with a
large stolen diamond.
This is but a short strand of the knotty yarn that is woven in _Snatch_,
not to mention an even smaller sampling of the shady sons-of-bitches that
populate Ritchie's grimy London underworld. In addition to the
pig-farm-owning, dog-fight-loving Brick Top, there's hard-to-kill Russian
badass Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia); Sol (Lennie James) and Vincent
(Robbie Gee), pawnbrokers who, along with heavyset getaway driver Tyrone
(Ade), make an inept robbery team; Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt), an Irish
gypsy bare-knuckle brawler with an unintelligible accent; Doug "the Head"
(Mike Reid), a gentile jeweler who pretends he's Jewish to benefit
business; American crook Avi (Dennis Farina), who gets the ball rolling
by hiring ace thief Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) to steal that
big ol' diamond.
With such a large canvas of players--and there are more than a few
others I haven't mentioned--it is indeed difficult at first to keep track
of them, even after each one is stylishly introduced with a freeze-frame
title card. What doesn't take so long, however, is getting caught up in
these colorful characters and the swirl of events that sweep them
together. Ritchie's stylized visuals do bear a show-offy sheen, but
there's no denying the eye candy makes an effective initial hook.
And once hooked, it isn't so much Ritchie's consistently interesting
visuals that keeps the audience interested than his clever,
unpredictable, breakneck plotting and memorably off-center characters.
He can't take full responsibility for the latter matter, though, for most
of the credit must go to the actors. While Del Toro's Franky is another
of his tiresome, trademark marble-mouths, Pitt makes shockingly good use
of his character's verbal tic, the basis of many a good laugh. Ford,
Farina, Ade, Gee, and James also make their mark without the benefit (or
hindrance) of a funky accent. Providing a welcome center of calm amid
all the quirkiness is the quietly captivating Statham.
With its considerable similarities in style and tone with
_Lock,_Stock..._, _Snatch_ cannot be considered a real creative step
forward for Ritchie; the film doesn't reveal anything especially new
about his ability (except, perhaps, his effective direction of
bigger-name actors). That said, I do think _Snatch_ is a step _up_;
while Ritchie essentially covers the same ground he did in that last
film, here he does it with more confidence and panache. But given his
obvious talent and potential as a filmmaker, here's hoping Ritchie
doesn't trap himself in this scuzzy/funny crime milieu--though if he
continues to work the genre, let's hope he can do so with the same level
of energy and imagination. (opens December 6 in Los Angeles for one week
only; opens everywhere January 19)