Taking stock of Tarantino

Movie: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Our Rating: 1.50

Every budding filmmaker in America has by now favored us with his own wrongheaded remake of "Reservoir Dogs," so it was inevitable that we'd soon have to start importing them. There's no other explanation for the arrival of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," a British hits-'n'-heists caper that substitutes bawdiness for cleverness, complication for complexity and stylization for style.

Don't fret that the London slang of writer/director Guy Ritchie's script may make this tale of four cheeky, young outlaws impenetrable to your Yank ears. Confusion on all levels is Ritchie's agenda as he follows card sharp Eddie (Nick Moran) and his reprobate mates from one hustle to the next. After losing big at the tables, Eddie has one week to repay mobster Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty), the feared kingpin of an underworld populated by a cast of cartoonishly overdrawn miscreants.

The swindle that follows has something to do with an illegal cannabis-growing operation, something to do with a pair of antique shotguns and everything to do with giving you a headache as you endure the increasingly violent, ceaselessly silly shenanigans.

Even when they're wreaking bloody mayhem, Ritchie's characters remain grounded in the English tradition of upper-class play-acting. Eddie and company come across as fresh-faced, game-for-a-laugh hooligans, refugees from a prep-school theatrical society's spring musicale rather than hardened criminals. Likewise, the director's frequent use of freeze-frame, fast-motion photography and campy, detective-novel narration serves not as ironic commentary on the surrounding carnage, but as a testament to the story's blithe disregard for believability.

"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" will likely find an audience among those who enjoyed "Trainspotting" because its Scottish accents were so cute. The rest of us, however, will see it for what it is: a particularly brutal episode of "The Young Ones," or a Gary Glitter video punctuated by gunshots instead of terrace chants. Rather than emitting a Tarantino-esque aria of destruction, Ritchie settles for the harmless refrain "I'm the leader of the gangsters, yes I am."

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