Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Richie. 1998)

``Lock, Stock, etc. seems more like an exercise in style than anything else...."

After you have seen this many movies it becomes more and more difficult to not have a “seen that” mentality towards things that are not incredibly original. Sometimes I struggle to look past the obvious influences that filmmakers have, and I end up passing them off as completely unoriginal. This is my problem with Guy Richie. Not only does he make the same movie over and over again, but he also lacks any consistent originality. His considered masterpiece, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels , is not exception to this rule. From Performance to Pulp Fiction to (most notably) Reservoir Dogs, it is obvious that Richie has seen a lot of movies in his time. And he is maybe more interested in remaking them then he ever was in writing them on his own…

Guy Richie is a filmmaker from the seemingly endless list of “style over substance” directors of the 90’s. He rose to fame with Lock, Stock only after the lively Quentin Tarantino opened the door for his type of freewheeling style. Like Tarantino, you can see heavy influence in most of Richie’s work. Not only that, but you can also easily see that Richie, like QT, has no particular interest in pushing his plot. So what makes them different? Well, QT managed to make these flamboyant movie-making tricks into a sort of personal trademark. After we see anything else, we have all been there and done that. Lock, Stock is an exercise in been there and done that.

Though this does make the film less good, it does not make it a bad film. Lock, Stock follows the story of four working class friends who get caught up in the infamous scum factory that is the London underground. After losing a very high stakes card game, the friends find themselves in a massive debt to a mob boss and pornography lord. If they do not pay their half a million pound debt in one week, they each will start losing appendages at the hands of the colossal, Barry the Baptist.

This is the diving board that launches our heroes into a sea of flat plot twists and unnecessary roundabout. But this is what a film like this is banking on. Richie is not afraid to use everything from cursing to throw away gags to keep you interested in his film’s style. As the writer and director, Richie added scenes and dialogue that you can almost tell makes him boyishly proud. At what cost to the film? The main characters all fall victim to overbearing style as a viewer may never even find it necessary to learn any person’s name. Richie just parades characters in front of the screen for long enough to help us remember that they exist. By the middle of the picture, you start to wish that people were wearing name tags. There are too many characters, and not enough action for all of them.

I do think that Richie intentionally added a lovable character to the film in order to drive the marketing. We are all familiar with the former soccer star, Vinnie Jones, who rose to fame after getting a handful of opponent testicles during a match. He plays Big Chris. A hired hand for the antagonist, Chris has a certain wit and humor to him that makes him the most energetic aspect of Lock, Stock. He also has a deep, and easy to sympathize with, love for his adolescent son – who he allows to ride shotgun during his work. This relationship is also the only emotional connection in the entire film; there is no love story in Lock, Stock. Lord knows, THAT would be too much.

When it comes down to it, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels really is not an easy film to follow. It is too fast, too British and it features way too many characters. Most of the violence is either cut away from or completely off screen. This leaves the viewer guessing what happened to some of the most invested characters. This is also a film that much too closely resembles the first half of Performance, and anything made by QT. Guy Richie is an unoriginal filmmaker who uses undeniable style to distract you from his inability to show you something new. Even his style is ripped-off.

Believe it or not, I still think that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a very entertaining picture show. It is made to be watched with some popcorn and a rewind button (you WILL need to re-hear some of that thick cockney dialogue) nearby. You may enjoy the film, but I promise you will think that you have seen it all before. Because you have…..

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: B-

My Next Film....Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (Van Peebles. 971)

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