Here it is, ladies and gentlemen: the award-winning film that launched the careers of Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones both internationally and in the United States (we don’t consider ourselves part of the “international” market with anything). It took the crime caper film to a new level (a genre that had been suffering since the ‘70s or so — Quentin Tarantino and John Woo entries not withstanding, of course), and fused a generous helping of black comedy and frenzy editing into the mix. The result: an instant classic that‘s still just as masterful as it was back in 1998 (even though 1998 wasn’t too terribly long ago).
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is the story of four hapless London hustlers (Jason Flemying, Jason Statham, Nick Moran, and Dexter Fletcher) who place all of their hard(ly) earned money into a high stakes poker game — and lose. But just being broke isn’t enough for these poor saps to endure, and they wind up owing underworld kingpin Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) a half-million pounds. With only a few days on their side to raise the money to pay the sadistic Hatchet Harry off (the promise of losing their fingers is mild compared to some of the things Harry is notorious for), the boys come up with a harebrained scheme to rob some local drug dealers, wherein they are given two antique shotguns to perform their task — shotguns that Hatchet Harry arranged to have stolen and is more than anxious to get his hands on!
And then their troubles really begin. Enter into the fray Harry’s bodyguard, Barry the Baptist (the late Lenny McLean); a psychotic debt collector (Vinnie Jones) who is training his young son in the ways of being persuasive; gangster Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood); and even musician Sting (who plays the father of one of our heroes) and Danny John-Jules (the Cat from Red Dwarf). And it’s all housed in one extremely fast-paced setup that introduces more crazy characters and subplots (which pay off along the way) than any American soap opera could ever hope to do.
It’s hard to believe that such a finely tuned and beautifully polished film was actually Guy Ritchie’s theatrical debut as both a writer and director. Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels should serve as definite proof that there is some serious talent out there in the world (Swept Away not withstanding). Two years later, Ritchie would again cast Statham and Jones in the similarly-veined (and just as enjoyable) Snatch, which I heartily recommend in addition to Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.