Witty Witty Gang Bang

Lock, Stock delivers with both barrels

The resulting herky-jerky motion gives off a humorous buzz. The four main lads are deadbeats, not Beatles, but Ritchie treats them as if they were the stars of A Hard Day's Night and Help!--and his own style owes more to the fearlessly eclectic Richard Lester than it does to Tarantino or Scorsese. The use of reggae, ska and retro-rock helps him establish an elastic rhythm. When Ritchie slows down the action, it's usually not to make a visual point, but to let his words sink in. He changes film speeds and angles so rapidly and promiscuously that when Eddie practices a one-handed shuffle, you feel certain that his hand has been sped up and the rest of the picture frozen.

Nothing Ritchie does is particularly original or profound, but he's got a back-alley flair that's both kinetic and literary. As a writer of dialogue, he knows how to build a rococo shtick into a relentless farcical eruption. Here's Tom trying to sell his competitor and sometime ally Nick the Greek (Stephen Marcus) some hot electronics: "That is 900 nicker in any shop you're lucky enough to find one in, and you're complaining about 200. What school of finance did you study? It's a deal, it's a steal, it's sale of the fucking century. In fact, fuck ya, Nick, I think I'll keep it." When Nick flashes an enormous wad, Tom explodes: "You could choke a dozen donkeys on that, and you're arguing about 100 pound? What do you do when you're not buying stereos, Nick--financing revolutions? . . . You got Liberia's deficit in your skyrocket. Tighter than a duck's butt you are. Now come on, let me feel the fiber of your fabric."

But Ritchie also knows how cleansing and uproarious a simple irony can be. Big Chris summarizes the entire chronicle of crackpot carnage when he says, "One more thing. It's been emotional."

You may not get a clear sense of the East End amid the phantasmagoria of old-fashioned sleaze and souped-up weed, of sex toys used as clubs and rifles as bargaining chips. (Apart from Nick's Greekness, the only reference to ethnicity comes when Tom says a deal is "as kosher as Christmas," and Nick must explain, "Jews don't celebrate Christmas.") You may not always know how the various mugs wind up in the exact right or wrong spots. Yet you always take amusement in Ritchie's flesh-and-blood versions of cartoon characters. The green public school kids who run the ganja garden are voluptuously silly, and Ritchie has the sense to give the zonked-out girl who lives with them a hilarious, unexpected climax.

This writer-director may or may not be a budding movie artist, but he's definitely a topnotch gamesman. In Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie tosses out inflammatory gags with blithe impunity. He plays pick-up sticks with dynamite.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Directed by Guy Ritchie.
Rated

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