What happens when you mix several amateur tough guys from London’s East End, a duffel bag packed with ?500,000 (about $800,000) and a few firearms? Mass confusion, which writer/director Guy Ritchie aptly demonstrates in his first feature film comedy, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Gramercy).
The film opens with a shot of London’s ashen East End cityscape. A gravelly voiced narrator makes character introductions, which take about half the movie to complete. The first group introduced is a young bunch of friends Eddie (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), Bacon (Jason Statham) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher). The group – except for Soap, who works as a chef – spends each day involved in petty acts of thievery such as selling counterfeit perfume.
Trouble begins for the amateur scammers when they choose to play with the big boys. Eddie, the group’s card shark, agrees to participate in a card game with underworld boss, “Porn King” Henry Hatchet (P.H. Moriarty). The game is rigged, and Eddie walks away owing ?500,000 to Hatchet. The debt must be paid by the end of the week or Eddie and his group will start losing fingers.
When all hope seems lost, the guys overhear their neighbors, a gang of middle-aged slobs, planning to rob a local drug dealer. Eddie’s group sees an opportunity and decides to rob them after they return home with the money. As the plot continues to tangle, other bosses, gangs, and bounty hunters get involved and all are connected in some way.
Every character is key, but this proves problematic because the film has more than 30 characters. Even the musician Sting makes a few appearances as Eddie’s dad. Although screen time is evenly distributed among the many characters, none are developed enough for viewers to care about what happens to them.
Antique firearms also play a significant role. Like the large cast, the weapons encourage confusion, but in a positive way. Ironically, guns provide the comic base for many of the film’s humorous situations. American viewers will find the use of firearms particularly funny, as London’s meanest Brits flounder, finding it hard to use lethal weapons.
Though some of the comic bits are well formed, the movie as a whole is not complete. Too many details and too many characters detract from the film. Like most writer/director’s first attempts, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has its finer moments and its problems. If nothing else the music, including songs by James Brown, The Stooges and The Stone Roses, keeps viewers attentive when the confusion thickens.