One of my favorite months of the year for movies is March. The award shows have all wrapped, the general public is looking for a break from weighty dramas, and Hollywood hasn’t quite geared up for the summer marketing blitz. During this transitional period, it’s anybody’s guess how a film might fare. For every flop released, you can bet there’s a hidden gem right alongside it. In March 1999, one such diamond in the rough was the British import, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels opens with a fast-talking street hustler named Bacon (Jason Statham) hocking merchandise that, as he eloquently puts it, are not stolen, they just haven’t been paid for. His partner, Eddy (Nick Moran), riles the crowd into a buying frenzy, but the two rabbit when a couple of ‘cozzers’ show up to arrest them. From there, the other two friends, Tom (Jason Flemyng) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher), are introduced along with the central plot. These four fellas have saved £100,000, which Eddy will use to buy his way into a high-stakes card game run by Hatchet Harry, a gent you obviously should not cross. Eddy’s card-playing talents are no match for Harry’s shifty tactics and he walks out with a debt of £500,000 to be paid by the four of them in one week’s time before Harry’s enforcer, Barry the Baptist, starts chopping fingers.
With the boys sufficiently scared, Harry has Barry line up a heist to relieve some old codger of a pair of antique shotguns using a couple of capital “M” morons. Meanwhile, Eddy’s shady neighbors plot to rob some weed dealers of their stash and cash. I still haven’t mentioned how Big Chris (Vinnie Jones), Harry’s other hired muscle, or the insane, Afro-sportin’ Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) fit into the story, but they do.
Guy Ritchie, as both writer and director, makes his first full-length film unforgettable. Eccentric characters spouting savvy banter captured with stylish camera angles keep the pace of this comedic, multi-heist film crisp and peppy. So what if the shadow of the boom mic can be seen at times or if some of the edits are a bit abrupt? So what if you have to occasionally back up to turn on subtitles to understand exactly what is being said? These minor issues won’t stop audiences from getting sucked into this wild ride.
Some might argue Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was another in a long line of films during the late 90s that rode the coattails of Tarantino’s off-beat success, Pulp Fiction. While that may account for some of its initial success, Lock, Stock‘s staying power is due to the cleverly structured plotting and sharp dialogue. The charisma of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is most noteworthy for launching the career of not only Guy Ritchie, but that of Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones. Statham’s stubbly pate and stoic stare have gone on to dazzle millions in one action pic after another. Jones has continued to chew up the scenery as the big bad-ass in a variety of films from action to comedy to horror. If for no other reason, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is worth watching just to see how it all began.