We gave it a C
It’s been emotional,” a golem-like enforcer says by way of an exit line in Guy Ritchie’s first comic crime caper, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The joke, of course, is that it’s been anything but. Men are smashed, shot, and hatcheted to bloody death, but among the living, emotions are limited to gibes and chummy squabbles; otherwise, ironic distance prevails. Leaving even the intensity of Pulp Fiction‘s screwy universe behind, Ritchie yanked any vestiges of consequence out of the business of being a murdering criminal, keeping only cold, laddish yuks in which nothing matters except hoisting a pint in the company of mates. And the former director of rock videos jazzed up these laughs by larding on jokey camera moves, a groovy rock soundtrack, and a screenplay filled with deadpan, slangy speechery.
This ironic wink-wink is a very British aesthetic sensibility, the cultural opposite of the preference among American filmmakers for emotional communication at best (even Tarantino clansmen connect), gooey sentimentality at worst. And, indeed, Lock, Stock was much less popular in the States than in the U.K. (where the movie is more accessible to that population’s peculiarly nuanced understanding of class systems, its Monty Pythonizable habits, institutions, and speech patterns). In any event, attention-getting in no small part because of the endearing performance of Britain’s popular, charismatically ferocious national soccer star Vinnie Jones as a stone-faced crime soldier (the exit line was his), the 1998 movie established Ritchie’s reputation as a director of faux-tough capers.
Snatch, Ritchie’s second feature, is a faux-tough caper modeled lock, stock, kit, and caboodle on his earlier film. It’s not a sequel, not a remake; it’s reheated Ritchie. (Finding Forrester is reheated Good Will Hunting from Gus Van Sant, but additional cooking time enhanced the flavor.) The tone is the same, the mix-ups are the same, the anesthetization to violent death is the same, and it’s even colder, executed with even more mannered hysteria. The plot is a more ambitious scheme of double crosses, but it’s also a more self-conscious lark: One running joke involves the antics of an excitable dog that swallows a rubber squeak toy, another the menace exuded by a silky, vicious local crime kingpin (Alan Ford, narrator of Lock, Stock) who grinds up the bodies of adversaries and feeds them to his pigs.
Once again, blokes with colorful nicknames fumble on the wrong side of the law, crossing wires with other small-time crooks and killing one another in good fun. A diamond-heist gang, including Frankie Four Fingers (Del Toro, in the costume of an Orthodox Jewish dealer, wrapping his lips around stale bagels of dialogue like ”So nu, vot do you know?”), tangles with a crew from an illegal boxing racket. (The working title of the movie was Diamonds, which is boring and has been used before; the current title suggests raunch for the hell of it, but turns out to apply only to the repeated interception of one very valuable rock.)
The boxing touts get mixed up with violent bookies. The lot of them cross paths with shady pawnshop operators. The pawnbrokers bicker with their own getaway driver, a man so massive he can barely get out of the car. (For those who are counting, the female population is triple that of its predecessor, and, miraculously, of the three women characters, only one dies!)
The visual jokes are the same — location titles, slo-mos and jerky speedups, tilted POVs and cartoon effects, exaggerated aurally — and many of the actors are the same. But the locals are now mixed with upmarket imports in loud costumes. Joining returnees Ford, Jones (once again impressive as a taciturn enforcer guarding a secret cache of brains), and Jason Statham (as a promoter of illegal boxing matches) are Dennis Farina (as a shady diamond boss), Del Toro (who steals gems in his employ), Rade Serbedzija (as an all-purpose, double-dealing, dangerous Slav), and Brad Pitt (as an Irish Gypsy bare-knuckles boxer).
It’s a strange day in East End London when Pitt, mumbling in a thick paste of an accent and etched with tattoos, is the nimblest, most effective, least self-amused participant in this playhouse fight club, but there it is: The ease with which this avatar of California stardom casts off his Hollywood identity and blends into relaxed, scruffy, one-of-the-ensemble Britbloke ”averageness” brightens every scene he’s in — and brightens, too, the performances of those around him, despite their protestations that he’s just one of the punters. Pitt’s participation makes Snatch feel like a more charming comedy than it really is.
Really, it’s a knockoff. And ultimately, what’s snatched is as rare as zirconium. C