Guy Ritchie (RocknRolla), the man who will probably live forever in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels put Ritchie on the map but also started a mean fan-fueled feud, claiming Lock, Stock was nothing but a poor Pulp Fiction rip-off. Time has been gentle to Ritchie's firstborn though. Strip away any unnecessary comparisons and what remains is two hours of juicy, criminal fun.
To get it out of the way, let's deal with the Pulp Fiction comparisons first: sure there are a lot of common elements between the Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. The heavy focus on funny dialogues, the criminal setting, the excessive violence, the different subplots coming together ... but there are just as many differences, which I deem of bigger importance for the overall feel of the film. Not only is Ritchie a more contemporary director (where Tarantino keeps referring to films of the past), it's the British setting that really sets this film apart. To each his own, but these foul-mouthed British criminals are a lot more fun to hang around with than their American counterparts. Their juicy accents alone are a reason to watch this film.
The story is made up to appear quite complex, but in fact it's a pretty simple tale strung together by a series of unlucky coincidences. Four friends get all their money together for a single game of cards, Eddy is the gamble wizkid that is supposed to earn them back a little profit. What they don't know is that the ringleader of the card game has an eye on Eddy's father's bar. The game is rigged and before they know it the four are in big trouble, owning a huge debt to the wrong people.
The four only have one week to assemble their debts, so desperate measures are needed. They target a bunch of thieves who are planning to rob a couple of drug kids. The story gets more complicated as the film progresses, but as everything is properly explained you can just undergo all the twists without getting too lost. By the time the end credits start rolling, it should be clear how all the different threads are connected.
Almost 15 years after its initial release, the film still looks mighty nice. There are some awesome slo-mo's (particularly the gun scene, which looks a lot like bullet-time avant la lettre), the camera work is dynamic but still manages to feel in control and to the point, the editing is snappy and the film bathes in a very comfortable sepia glow. All this helps to establish a stylish, modern yet warm and familiar atmosphere.
The soundtrack is probably the weakest part of the film. A collection of (often boring) British rock hits make up most of the soundtrack. I must admit that Ritchie integrates them quite well, even letting them guide some of the scenes, but if you're up against people like Danny Boyle (think Trainspotting) you have to do a bit better than this I'm afraid. The one drum 'n bass track that appears somewhere in the second half of the film hardly weighs up against the other choices.
The acting on the other hand is sublime. All characters are allowed to thrive on their fat accents, giving the dialogues the punch they deserve. On top of that they all put in very commendable performances, playing with a certain tongue-in-cheek air that fits the film. Absolute star though is Vas Blackwood, whose Rory Breaker character must be one of the most hilarious villains ever.
Lock, Stock And Two Barrels is little more than simple fun, but packaged in a very dazzling and cinematic way. There is not much here beyond some heavy cursing, a few successful gags and a cast of slightly odd and eccentric characters, but that should prove more than plenty to entertain you for two hours.
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels remains my favorite Ritchie film. While he made some nice variations later on, he never again reached the level of tongue-in-cheek wittiness that makes this film so adorable. Just ignore the whole Tarantino feud, relax and allow yourself to be swept away by a tsunami of "whot"s and "wanker"s.