And yet, as an unlikely bedfellow Cruise may be for a convoluted, cockernee, crime caper, without his surprise appearance at an American film buyers screening, at the behest of one of the films backers Trudi Styler, (Mrs Sting), Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels may, in a parallel universe, gone straight to DVD, never to pass go, and never to collect its star-studded premiere or subsequent US release.
Cruise, allegedly stood, at the end of the screening, turned to the assembled buyers and announced, ‘You’d be crazy not to buy this film’. Fast forward to the searing riffs of Ocean Colour Scene’s Hundred Mile High City and a cast that includes, amongst others, four east end chancers, a Baptist, a couple of scouse scallies, a paternal debt collector, a gaggle of stoners, a mob of half-baked villains, a psychotic drug dealer, a Greek wheeler-dealer,a porn king, a hapless traffic warden and Sting. Whom, like a cat with a ball of string, become entangled, engaged and enraged by one or all, at some point during the film
The film starts with Bacon, pre-Transporter and post Commonwealth diver Jason Statham, hawking his wares from a suitcase on the street corner, a-la-Del-Boy, ‘Anyone like jewelry? Look at that one there. Handmade in Italy, hand-stolen in Stepney’ he calls. ‘Did you say £10?’ asks Eddie, his convincer, I’ll have one’. Thus, the crowd fall in step, and using the old as time Shill Technique, Bacon struggles to keep up with their demand, until Eddie screams ‘Rozzers!’ Goods stuffed back in the case, they scarper, the eschewing chase sees Eddie & Bacon duck and dive through an unspecified East End urban innards, spilling the cases guts along the way. Therein lies the heart of this film, scams, shysters and shylocks.
Heavily stylized and bursting to the well-dressed seams with swagger, the film centers on four sharp East End faces, Bacon (Jason Statham), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Eddy (Jason Flemyng), and what may be taken as the lead role, card shark, Eddie (Nick Moran). Pooling all their resources, £25k each, they back Eddie in a winner takes all card game with porn king, and local Mr Big ,‘Harry the Hatchet’ (P H Moriaty). Theatrically staged in a boxing ring, no doubt a nod to the previous career of Harry’s enforcer ‘Barry the Baptist’ (Lenny McClean), so called after his penchant for drowning those who displease him.
If you’re looking for an enforcer who exudes authenticity, then casting the one time ‘Hardest Man in Britian ‘Lenny McClean in the role is a no brainer. Unfortunately, the Guv’nor, who drifted towards acting following his appearance in a TV documentary title ‘Bounce – Behind the Velvet rope, passed away before it was released, Ritchie dedicating the film to his memory.
The card game doesn’t go to plan. Eddie, dazed, in debt, enslaved, and now in danger of losing his fingers, leaves to the brutal fuzzing throb of Iggy Pop screaming how he wants to be your dog. Informing the other three, that the half-a-mill to Harry, is on all their shoulders and payable within a week, Eddie disappears to the bottom of a bottle, leaving the others thinking of ways to raise the money.
Harry’s motive for rigging the card game? Secure the bar owned by Eddies father, JD (Sting). In the meantime, Harry, has his greedy eyes set on a pair of antique Purdy shotguns and tasks Barry with getting hold of them. Enlisting a couple of scouse scallies, one with a perm (obviously) and a penchant for burning his victim’s feet, Barry tells them to rob the stately home and bring him the guns, no questions.
While all this is going on Harry sends Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) to see if Eddies dad is prepared to settle the debt using the bar as collateral. The two scouse scallys, one of whom now has a lovely center parting in his perm, rob the stately home, make off with the shotguns, selling the old ones (Purdys) to Nick the Greek (Stephen Marcus). Upon delivering the rest of the guns to the Baptist, they’re told in no uncertain terms to get the guns back or like Eddie and Co, they’ll be counting the fingers they don’t have on each hand!
Hung out to dry, Bacon, Soap and Tom spend the coming days figuring out how to get hold of Harry’s money. Overhearing a neighbor’s conversation Eddie returns, sprightly and chipper from his two days at the bottom of a bottle, infused with details of how to get hold of the money, payback Hatchet and keep their digits. Eddie’s proposes they lie in wait and when his neighbour Dog (Frank Harper) and his motley crew of sociopathic losers return from their heist, rob them of their spoils, pay back the Hatchet, and make a tidy profit by selling on the Ganja, ‘winner, winner chicken dinner’. In need of some artillery Tom (Jason Flemyng) goes to see Nick the Greek, who just happens to have a pair of old shotguns lying around.
Numerous parallel sub-plots interjecting and overlapping throughout the film, leaves the instantly quotable dialogue imbedded in your ‘loaf of bread’ It’s no surprise that Ritchie’s movie directional debut is influenced by the same rapid fire snapshot energy associated with the music video and commercial genre he served his time in. Nor should it be a surprise that the excellent soundtrack carries you through a mosaic of genres and decades, James Brown Funk, Junior Marvin Reggae, era defining Stone Roses, a haunting Dusty Springfield, the Mick Fleetwood baiting ‘Why did you do it’ by Stretch, of-the-moment drum & bass by EZ Rollers, all neatly wrapped up by Ocean Colour Scene, who also sound-tracked the spin off TV series.
From its independent self-funded roots to major screen success, any film with multiple intertwining plots that twist, turn & double pike, explosive violence and an iconic soundtrack, was always going to draw comparisons with Tarantino films; and like Tarantino films, Lock Stock, doffs its ‘tifter’ in paying its respect to those numerous influences. Whereas Tarantino draws heavily on Blaxploitation, Asian slasher flicks and good ole cowboys to mention a few. Lock Stock, references the obvious ‘Long Good Friday’ Get Carter’ as well as Get Shorty. However it’s the Ealing black comedy farce The Ladykillers that Lock Stock reminds me of the most.
After preparations that include a lovely cup of Rosie-lee, Eddie and the boys steal the ill-gotten gains from Dog, and as a bonus ball gain a stray traffic warden (Rob Brydon). Heading to JD’s to celebrate keeping their fingers they getting wasted and light each other’s farts. Meanwhile, Dog & Co finding out who stitched them up, lie in wait at Eddies place promising a bloody revenge. The man Nick the Greek knows who may be interested in buying the Ganja is the psychopathic cocktail drinker, Rory Breaker (Vas Blackwood) the man behind the Ganja growing operation robbed by Dog!
Robbed of his Ganja and cash, then asked if he wanted to buy it back, Breaker asks Nik-o-lass, ’is this some joke for white cunts that black cunts don’t get!’ before swearing to strike down the hand of vengeance. Reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western ending, where, in a cemetery The Good, The Bad & The Ugly circle one another to Ennio Morricone’s soaring theme tune, Lock Stock builds to its brutal conclusion sound-tracked by Zorba the Greek.
Breaker and Dog exact their respective blood-soaked revenge on each other until the fierce firefight leaves two standing, one of the ganja growers Winston, and Dog. A recognition that they can both walk away winners here, leads to Dog picking up the cash and the antique Purdys, while Winston walks away with the Ganja.
Unfortunately, Dog walks straight into brutal Big Chris (Vinne Jones), headbutt and is relieved of the Purdy’s and the money. Vinnie Jones excels in his first major screen role as Big Chris, an intense, intimidating, freelance debt collector. It may be argued the role he played on screen was not far from the role he played on the football pitch for Wimbledon, ask Gazza. Dropping off the money and guns to a surprised Harry, now under the impression Eddie has squared the debt, Big Chris gets back to his car only to find his son, Little Chris, held at knifepoint by a disheveled Dog demanding back the money. ‘Put your seat belt on’ says the Father to his Son.
Returning to a bad day in Bosnia, hungover and back in the red, Eddie and the others reluctantly set out for Harry’s excuses in hand, only to find Harry, the Baptist and the two scousers Gary & Dean slain bodies riddled from another shoot out. Unable to believe the pendulum of good fortune has swung back in their favour they pick up the cash and the guns. Meanwhile, Big Chris knowing the importance of clunk clicking on every trip, purposely crashes the car, disables Dog and making sure Little Chris is safe, screams vitriolic abuse as he bludgeons Dog to death by repeatedly slamming the car door into his head.
Filmed in a single slow motion take on Vinnie Jones first day, this is hardest hitting scene, which for a film who’s primary colour is claret, says something. Checking on the passengers of the car he’s crashed into Big Chris discovers the money and the guns he’s just returned. With Harry dispatched to the porn store in the sky, Big & Little Chris roll up the guns, count the money and putting their seat belts depart, sharpish.
Acquitted after a night in the cells and with only the guns to tie them to the case Tom, despite his protests, is told to throw them in the river. To their surprise Big Chris returns the empty holdall save for an antique gun catalogue. The film concludes as the Purdy’s worth is discovered, and frantic calls to Tom are made as he hangs precariously over a bridge balustrade, caught between chucking the guns in the river and answering his phone.
Released in 1998 when Tony Blair’s New Labour were still basking in the honeymoon glory of giving the Tories a ‘Harry The Hatchet’ style beating at the polls, Lock Stock rode the tail of ‘Cool Britannia for all its worth, £11 million nicker at the UK box office to be precise. Awards and critical acclaim followed, including a BAFTA, prompting Sony to buy the rights to Ritchie’s follow up film ‘Snatch’ without even seeing it. The film’s stars were catapulted to tabloid recognition, and in some cases to Hollywood. Lock Stock Geezer style was splatted everywhere, from catwalks to lad mags to suburban town centers across the country.
Just as Britpop with its magpie-eye, held a mirror to the music of the past claiming the shiny bits as their own. Guy Ritchie too, cast his rose-tinted director lens backwards, capturing the best bits of what had gone before and in the old Mod adage, Adopted, Adapted and Improved the British gangster film.