A group of East End wide boys spend a frantic few days trying to raise half a million quid to pay a gambling debt or face the wrath of a local mobster.
Of all the recent attempts to put a Tarantinoid spin on the British gangster movie, this is the freshest and most successful. It is, at heart, an extended shaggy dog story, as is revealed by snippets of cockney narration that introduce minor characters or prod the plot along, but writer-director Guy Ritchie and his cast have enough freestyle energy and bizarro confidence to get away with it. Set entirely in a fantasy East End where women almost don't exist and shot through a drunken haze, it creates a world related to reality and to old crime movies but also self-contained and original.
The plot is a complex collision of several sets of crooked characters. Our heroes - Eddy (Moran), Tom (Flemyng), Soap (Dexter Fletcher) and Bacon (Statham) - are harmless wideboys who find themselves in a pickle when demon cardsharp Eddy loses a rigged three-card brag game with local mob boss/porn baron Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty). The lads are required to hand over half-a-million quid by the end of the week or suffer the attentions of Harry's debt-collectors, a bald head-dunker called Barry The Baptist (bare knucks champ Lenny McLean) and the fearsome but paternal Big Chris (football hard man Vinnie Jones).
The quartet overhear their nastier neighbours planning on robbing a group of public school dope cultivators and decide to rip-off the rip-off artists. Also mixed up in the escalating mess are an Afro-haired drugs czar (Vas Blackwood), Eddy's bar-owning dad (Sting, but don't worry - he isn't in many scenes), middle-man Nick The Greek (Stephen Marcus) and an extremely unlucky traffic warden (Robert Brydon).
Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is too mixed-up to synopsise easily and too rickety to think about closely, but it gets plenty of laughs as it rushes from scene to scene.
Ritchie's colour-desaturated style, use of unusual background music, scattershot slang (some subtitled) and mostly tasteful black comedy give the whole film the feel of an altered state of perception, whether it be Eddy's shaky devastation at running up the debt or the various spells of drunkenness, dope trancing or adrenalin rush that smite all characters. And it ends with the best bit of dangling since The Italian Job.