Guy Ritchie's new film "Snatch" (IMDb listing) is "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" version 2.0. Not so much a remake of his 1998 film, but more of a second effort to perfect the routine Ritchie caper film. Where "Lock, Stock" took considerable effort both technically and sonically to appear cool, "Snatch" just is cool. A joyride of a film solidifying Ritchie as a natural stylist and hinting at a substantial storyteller buried under all the sound and fury.
Set in England, "Snatch" details the exploits of a Robert Altman style community of criminals who are only interested in making a fast buck. Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) is a gambling addict who is trying to sell off an 84-karat diamond that he has just stolen. Turkish ("Lock, Stock's" Jason Statham) is an unlicensed boxing promoter who has hired an Irish Gypsy (Brad Pitt) to throw a very important fight for the local crime lord. Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina) is an American who comes over the Atlantic to retrieve the diamond for his own purposes, enlisting help from a psychopath named Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones, also from "Lock, Stock"). Also involved in the mayhem are three black wannabe criminals who cannot seem to get their felonies just right, a demented Russian who makes Mike Tyson look like a Laura Ingalls Wilder character, and a little white dog with an oral fixation.
"Snatch" comes as a real surprise since I didn't care for Ritchie's "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels." I found that film to be a little overindulgent with its visuals. The story and the dialog also strayed a little to far into dare I say it? Tarantino country. "Snatch" can also be easily dismissed in the very same ways. However, in "Snatch," Ritchie's structure is tighter and his characterizations are brighter. Thankfully gone is the gang vs. gang mentality from "Lock, Stock", with "Snatch" focusing more intently on individual character personalities. "Snatch" shows positive growth from Ritchie as a screenwriter as well, though I doubt phrases like "Who took the jam out of your roll?" will crossover here in the states.
Assuming a greater control over his content than in "Lock, Stock", don't think Ritchie forgets his trademark camera tricks and stuttery moves. "Snatch" is as visually gaudy as "Lock, Stock" was. Possibly even more so (as evident in the climatic boxing match). Yet "Snatch"'s chic movements seem more organic to the overall style of the film. They add to the mood of "Snatch" instead of serving as just a show off tool (as they did in "Lock, Stock"). Ritchie's got some sensational moves in him, heightened by a natural sense of framing and staging. "Snatch" benefits from a director who knows how to execute his own material. This is a great film, but more importantly, it's an even better upgrade from the last time Ritchie tried a crime picture.
Though the ads might fool you into thinking this is an American production, "Snatch" is decidedly an English affair. This is apparent early on with the joke being that Pitt's character is unintelligible and the other characters have trouble understanding him. It's a funny bit. However, in the hurricane of Irish, Scottish, English, Russian, and Goodfella brogues, almost the entire cast is incomprehensible. This leaves "Snatch" a bit colder to American audiences that I'm sure Ritchie intended. You have to stay with the dialog carefully to keep track of the labyrinthine plot. I hate to be the xenophobe, but the flurry of accents do not help in understanding who is double-crossing who in "Snatch".
With a cast of Ritchie regulars and some American stars, "Snatch" profits from the use of good old fashioned star power. As modest as the roles for Pitt, Del Toro, and Jones are, they certainly make their presence known through their celebrity. The entire cast is noteworthy since most of them have worked with Ritchie before, yet whenever the film begins to sag, it gets a lift from the familiar faces. Ritchie is smart enough to cast some big names to get attention for his film, but he's even more crafty to employ the stars to twist his "Snatch" into a marvelous motion picture that will hopefully serve as a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things.
Filmfodder Grade: A-