Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999)

Most action movies, as strange as it may sound, are rather restrained in their violence. Sure, there are brawls, broads and bullets but to a great degree the action is grounded in some kind of reality, mainly through the narrative logic. Director Guy Ritchie can’t be bothered with reality, logic or even time itself. If he’s gonna go about making an action sequence it’s going to be crazy, silly, over the top and utterly awesome.

Tom (Jason Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Eddie (Nick Moran) and Bacon (Jason Statham), like all young people, have a get rich quick scheme. Each will put up $25,000 for Tom to play a high stakes game of poker with the local crime lords. He’s brilliant at poker and never fails so it’s practically guaranteed money. But the follies of youth know no bounds and not only does Tom lose the money but he also gets a hefty $100,000 debt which the four must come up with in a week’s notice or they will be the target of hit man Big Chris (Vinnie Jones).

As a narrative, the film gradually devolves into chaos as the four come up with new plans. But the film is more preoccupied with developing the plethora of crazy and memorable characters. Big Chris has to be my favorite, a brutal hit man who brings along his son, Little Chris (Peter McNicholl). Despite all the gory violence he allows his son to witness he’s a stickler over coarse language spoken in his son’s presence. He’s working on the recommendation of Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean) a brutal assistant to the local crime lord who has the lowdown on everyone.  He’s constantly faced with an onslaught of stupid and ignorant characters.

For instance, he’s forced to hire two nobodies to lift a pair of antique guns. Being the foolish Neanderthals they are the two sell the pair of exquisite guns and then are forced to go on a hilarious romp to reacquire them.  Equally stupid is the gang of druggies running their own personal plantation whose line of defense is a cage they never lock and an air rifle. It’s the ensemble cast of goofy characters that Out of Sight only wished it had.

And while Guy Ritchie has a knack for making hilarious and memorable characters he’s got an ever better skill at crafting dialogue. Behind the heavy accents and slick deliveries is some gold writing. The jokes are clever, indignant and well thought out. The dialogue within itself also has this very smooth, rhythmic pacing as it falls into that groove of snarky pacing found in classic film noir but with the added verbosity of the post Quentin Tarantino era.

Where the writing may not be as solid is in the narration. Whenever a new character is introduced the film freeze frames as a narrator (Alan Ford) gives us a basic character sketch. It’s rather lazy but the film usually presents it in a tongue-and-cheek manner and often provides humorous stories that couldn’t be told any other way. Still, at times it feels like the film is spending all this time telling us all this stuff that may not actually have any implications in the action.

And once the action does kick in the film pretty much becomes one of the most ridiculous, insane movies ever. It’s not the high explosive, bullet filled action of say a John Woo film, in fact, it’s not even that much of a spectacle, it’s just how ridiculously silly it all becomes. The second half of the film is a devolving series of hilariously convenient–or not so much depending on whom you are–coincidences. The action in itself is silly, but when cobbled with the already hilarious characters and scatterbrained plot it takes on such an exaggerated stature that it’s simply insane.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a hilarious farce film. It recognizes all the hilarity at work and embraces it. Often in action films there’s that nagging sensation that all this is so stupid, in this film it knows how stupid it is and uses the stupidity to its advantage. It makes for a messy, uneven picture but it works. The fact that the film never becomes as incoherent as it should be is a testament to just how smart the film is even in its utter stupidity. And stupidity has never been so good.

© 2009 James Blake Ewing

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels [Blu-ray]