London Falling

With Snatch, Guy Ritchie again proves himself to be a pale imitation of Tarantino

Quite obviously, Guy Ritchie was paying very close attention to the early-'90s Tarantino double-whammy of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Fascinated by the commercial success of films that blend ruthless violence with brash cutting and cartoonish characters, Ritchie emerged with a hit called Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. For what it's worth, blame or credit for Ritchie's rise clearly belongs to Tarantino's giddy shots-heard-round-the-world.

So now we have Snatch. This second installment in the Ritchie canon greets us with a bunch of phallic guns--note the pistol proudly frozen for a subtle moment with the director's credit--and carries on much in the vein of Lock, Stock, with a bunch of angry hooligans running around shooting each other for no particular reason. The director clearly loves working with insipid caricatures, and if you dug it the first time around, you're bound to enjoy this stuff, as Ritchie has enhanced his savage ballet with a few new quirks. Not only are we treated to repeated proclamations that the vicious kingpin chops up his enemies and feeds them to his pigs (surely a prescient lift from the forthcoming Hannibal), we get an irritable Jewish jeweler, a nearly indestructible Russian gangster, and a trio of bumbling black amateurs who can't help creating wacky trouble for themselves.

Narrated by a thick boxing promoter called Turkish (Jason Statham), the movie assumes we are very, very stupid and holds our hands while introducing us, one by one, to its motley lot of losers, thugs, and morons. Most fearsome is Brick Top (Alan Ford), the "unhinged, pig-feeding gangster" who makes his fine living fixing fights while happily stuffing subordinates into his pocket. Aided by his henchman Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones), he's got a score to settle with Turkish and his even thicker friend Tommy (Stephen Graham), whose fighter has been dropped by a wild Gypsy called "One-Punch" Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt, with tattoos).

Brad Pitt fights the good fight, mate, in Mr. Madonna's latest film, Snatch.
Brad Pitt fights the good fight, mate, in Mr. Madonna's latest film, Snatch.

Alas, if only sly Frankie Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) had stuck to the crooked and narrow--delivering a huge 84-karat diamond to New York kingpin Avi (Dennis Farina) and depositing smaller stones with the Jewish wannabe Doug the Head (Mike Reid) in London--everybody could have settled down and played nice. But Frankie's gambling addiction (gently underscored by quick, loud montages set to "Viva Las Vegas") leads him into the temptation of Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), a wily "Cossack cunt" who convinces him to bet on the fights. Hired by Boris to off the high roller and collect his winnings, two pawnshop owners (Robbie Gee, Lennie James), their nearly useless getaway driver (newcomer Ade), and drum 'n' bass sensation Goldie get mixed up in the action, until all sorts of chaos and hilarity and murder ensue.

While it's definitely thudding and tiresome, Snatch is not entirely without merit. The locals certainly hold the work together (basically boys playing tough-guy shoot-'em-up--cute, in a sad way), but it's the introduction of Pitt as the Gypsy--or "pikey"--bareknuckled boxer that gives the film a much-needed lift. Pitt seems determined to capture Johnny Depp's crown of "most versatile young actor," and, while that's a ways off, his curiously accented (though utterly comprehensible) Mickey is a confident step in that direction. Watching him spar, a barechested and sweaty retread of Fight Club's's Tyler Durden, one is tempted to redub this movie Slight Flub, but his rich and rough performance overrides derision. The essence of the Gypsy camp and the vital presence of his "Ma" (Sorcha Cusack) add a sense of humanity, however slight, that Lock, Stock sorely lacked.

Ultimately, Snatch emits the embarrassing aura of a filmmaker desperate to be considered cool, yet utterly inept at finding original ways to reach that status. Even this year's trifling Circus offered more bangers than this mash. It's simply more of the trendy same from Ritchie, and whether we should appreciate his gunplay as an improvement over disco balls, hot rods, and mechanical bulls is open to debate. As his Bullet Tooth Tony sagely puts it, "You should never underestimate the predictability of stupidity."

 
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