By Juan Barquin
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Travis Cohen
By Juan Barquin
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Amy Nicholson
By Juan Barquin
Yet rather than work as a turnoff, Ritchie's showmanship (half macho braggadocio, half emotion-tinged bravura) slaps and tickles the viewer into submission. He takes a group of not-so-goodfellas, whose idea of fun is setting farts afire, and, against all odds, makes them lively and engaging.
Eddie the card shark (Nick Moran), Soap the chef (Dexter Fletcher), Bacon the small-time scam artist (Jason Statham), and Tom the hustler of stolen goods (Jason Flemyng) are men in their late twenties who carry on like hapless, hopeful teenagers. Getting to know them is akin to sorting out bunkmates. What makes you warm to the bunch is their guttural bonhomie. They're never more vivid than when they're pooling their feelings -- their foolish elation at a job medium-well-done or their primal hatred of parking cops. Eddie is a handsome fellow hiding anxiety behind a poker face; Soap a scowler who keeps his hands clean; Bacon a self-styled hard guy; and Tom a fast talker with ideas too big for his muscles or his brain. Ritchie fixes them in our mind and sets them in motion without making us think we know everything about them. Suddenly Tom will blurt out a confidence scheme to fleece the sexually kinky, or Soap will unveil fearsome cutlery and proclaim, "Guns for show, knives for a pro." The flourishes fill out instead of contradict their personalities. In its own frivolous way, the movie demonstrates just how confused overgrown kids can get because they haven't settled on an understanding of themselves.
Not that this film shows anybody growing up. With childish optimism and teenish desperation, these young men are counting on Eddie to make them rich with a big win at a high-stakes card game. They've put nearly everything else on hold, including, apparently, any relationships with women. So I was relieved to discover, courtesy of reporter Matt Wolf in the February 14 New York Times, that Eddie did have a girlfriend in an early cut, and, more important, that the guys' cheerful state of psychological arrest is the whole point of the movie.
In the film's home country (where it's been a giant hit), these four unassuming blokes have been taken up as the avatars of laddism, which, according to Wolf, is "rowdy, boys-will-be-boys behavior" rooted in the male proletariat yet now "fashionable and hip." It sounds like a dubious movement. Its products include the British and American versions of the sitcom Men Behaving Badly; I presume that it's helped fuel the retro-sexist trend of turning the cover of every Anglo or American men's mag into a Baywatch poster. Still, from the evidence of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, laddism has its charms as a revolt against hypocrisy and a cry for spontaneity. Women as well as men may find these antiheroes refreshing because they don't pretend to have any raised consciousness. They're blissfully unself-conscious, and often, simply unconscious. The movie works because Ritchie puts his razzle-dazzle technique at the service of his quartet's unpredictable impulses. He uses a jester's tricks to spin a labyrinthine yarn. Part of the yarn's joke is just how much of it there is, and how many shady characters are entwined in it.
Any skilled auteur can involve an audience in medias res; Ritchie gets us involved in multimedias res. At a card table, Eddie has the killer knack for reading his opponents' hands in their faces. He persuades Bacon, Tom, and Soap to help him raise the 100,000 pounds he needs to play at the table of porn operator and all-around racketeer Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty), whose nickname comes not from his face but from his favorite weapon. Naive Eddie, not realizing that H.H. has the game wired, winds up 500,000 pounds in debt. He and his pals have a week to pay up before Harry's enforcers -- Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean), who drowns debtors, and Big Chris (Vinnie Jones), who muscles them -- begin slicing off their digits.
The solution is more complicated than the setup: It involves a rabid thief named Dog (Frank Harper) and his sidekick, Plank (Steve Sweeney); a profitable ganja garden; two antique rifles Hatchet Harry covets for his collection; a couple of slapstick thieves-for-hire from up north, who can't tell an antique from an aardvark; and an enigma in an Afro named Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), who seems spacey until you hear him tell an associate, "If you hold back anything, I'll kill ya. If you bend the truth, or I think you're bending the truth, I'll kill ya. If you forget anything, I'll kill ya. In fact you're going to have to work very hard to stay alive."
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!