Ah, the 90's. The gaudy culture of the 1980's was gradually being washed away by the harder edge of the 1990's. Nirvana and the Seattle grunge movement shook the music industry and put the final nail into the coffin of hair metal. Soon, a film geek named Quentin Tarantino would change the film business in a similar manner with his own hip style of movie making. "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" shined a spotlight on a world of crime and drugs. His scripts were full of unique characters, dark humor, and memorable dialogue containing plenty of lewd obscenities and pop culture references. For better or worse, Tarantino's films inspired numerous copycats. "2 Days in the Valley", "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag", "Thursday", "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead", and "Very Bad Things" were just a few of the many imitators hoping to achieve the same level of acclaim. Let's just say they were pretenders to the throne.
"Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" is probably one of the better and more successful of the genre. The film was the debut of writer/director Guy Ritchie who filtered the Tarantino formula through a distinct British point of view and a kinetic MTV-style of direction. Ritchie weaves together numerous plotlines, starring an oddball cast of characters, and builds them to an explosive conclusion. The formula worked so well that Ritchie repeated it for his next film, "Snatch."
Ed (Nick Moran) fancies himself a card player and looks to get into a high stakes game of three card brag, a poker variation. Ed raises the money he needs to buy into the game with help from his friends; Bacon (Jason Statham), a street hustler; Tom, a self-styled entrepreneur; and Soap (Dexter Fletcher), a chef who tries to keep out of trouble. Unfortunately, Ed underestimates his opponent, Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty), a gangster who runs a sex shop and enjoys chopping people into pieces. The boys wind up deep in debt and desperately search for a way out.
Luckily, their salvation comes from their next-door neighbors, a gang of thieves led by the vile Dog (Frank Harper). Through his thin walls, Ed overhears Dog and company planning to rob a group of hemp growers they take for softies. Ed and his friends intend to steal the money and drugs from Dog once he returns from his heist. Meanwhile, Harry attempts to acquire a pair of antique rifles through less-than legal methods.
The ensemble includes even more colorful characters like Harry's henchmen, Barry the Baptist (Lenny McLean, in his last role), a brutish thug who enjoys drowning people, and Big Chris (Vinnie Jones), who collects debts with his son, Little Chris. There's also Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood), a diminutive, but violent, gangster with a healthy afro, and rock star Sting puts in a solid performance as Ed's no-nonsense father, J.D.
Two well-known movie tough guys make their screen debuts in "Lock, Stock." The future Transporter, Jason Statham, does well as the fast-talking Bacon. Not surprisingly, Statham hawked goods on the streets before making it big. Former soccer ruffian, Vinnie Jones, is easily believable as the hardass enforcer. Perhaps, because he was known for beating people up on and off the field.
If you hung Guy Ritchie for being a subtle filmmaker, you'd be hanging an innocent man. He's not exactly known for subtext, symbolism, or understated shades of gray. The characters are all one-dimensional, but that one dimension is a lot of fun to watch. Since everybody behaves cartoon characters come to life, the situations they find themselves in are very cartoonish. Dog's heist goes to pot when his crew are locked behind a cage door. Being shot at by an air rifle, they wildly fire back only to be blinded by the smoke of a shotgun and deafened by a thunderous machine gun. "Lock, Stock" has a real manic pacing and it's appropriate that the film, at one point, was to be called, "Helter Skelter." That description ties in well with Ritchie's brand of directing. He sprinkles in slow motion, fast forwards, and cuts many scenes to the film's eclectic soundtrack that includes punk, reggae, ska, pop, and James Brown.
You'll probably find yourself re-watching a few sections of the film or switching on the subtitles (as if that might help) when trying to translate the cockney slang. People in the film might as well be speaking Swahili or Klingon. One scene features some helpful translations so you'll know somebody is talking about a drink when they say, "...ping pong tiddly in the nuclear sub." No such luck for the rest of the film.
The theatrical release ran 1 hour and 48 minutes, while this new director's cut clocks in at exactly 2 hours. Added to this version are a few new scenes such as a bookend with Ed explaining the rules of three card brag, Harry telling Barry about Chris's background in collections, and we also learn the past connection between Harry and J.D. The rest of the new footage is made of extended or altered dialogue during a few sequences like the poker game, Big Chris confronting the man in the tanning bed, and Barry chastising the two dimwitted thieves he hired.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film was originally released in 1999 by Polygram. The transfer on that disc suffered from graininess and an inordinate amount of dirt and scratches. The "Locked 'N Loaded" edition cleans up the majority of those problems, but still carries quite a few specks. The biggest change has to do with the new color palette. The film originally had a yellow tinge to it. This new transfer features a more normalized tone that comes off in an odd beige. I can't say as I approve. The colors just appear flat and really doesn't work in portraying the gritty London underworld.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 The sound effects have been slightly remixed, but my ear couldn't discern any noticeable differences between the two releases. Both sound great with dialogue coming in crisp and clear.
The Polygram release contained a behind-the-scenes featurette and a text-based cockney dictionary. Neither of them are present here.
Instead, you'll find One Smoking Camera, featuring an interview with cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones, who discusses shooting the picture and the various visual tricks used, and Lock, Stock and Two F**king Barrels, a montage of all the F-words used in the picture. The former is decent, but the latter is completely useless.
No audio commentaries, no new interviews or retrospective. Extremely disappointing.
"Lock, Stock" may not be the most original film around, but it's a clever comedy of errors. While I recommend the film, I can't say the same for this new "Locked 'N Loaded" edition. The new scenes neither add or take away anything from the original cut and I really didn't care for the new color scheme on this transfer. Plus, the new extras can barely count as bonus features. Owners of the previous release can hold onto their copies, the now out of print Polygram edition is the way to go. For those who are looking to buy this film, I'd maybe hold out for them to do "Lock, Stock" right.