Movie Review: Snatch
You know those movies where a guy (usually an inventor) wakes up and slaps his alarm clock, which is attached to a string that flips a lever that turns on the shower, and the draining water triggers a switch that yanks a cord that drops bread into the toaster and turns on the coffeemaker and activates metallic hands that crack eggs into a frying pan?
Well, Guy Ritchie's two British crime comedies are like that if you had, say, eight guys waking up simultaneously with all of their strings and levers attached to the same kitchen.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) was a frenetic caper movie in which multiple gangs are whipped through a Rube Goldberg device of a plot as they leapfrog over one another to get their hands on a bundle of cash without getting obliterated by the other guys.
Snatch is a close cousin, like a Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote cartoon following a Bugs Bunny episode.
As in Lock, Stock, the characters are divided into clusters of shady guys, bad guys, worse guys and really nefarious guys. Both movies also involve bets gone sour and debts owed to the really nefarious guys.
The difference between these two films, at least on the surface, is that Snatch boasts some stars in the cast: Brad Pitt and the suddenly hot (thanks to Traffic) Benicio Del Toro. (Lock, Stock reserved a small role for Sting, but that doesn't really count.)
Yet instead of shining the spotlight more brightly on these two, Ritchie seamlessly blends them in with the rest of the cast, several of whom have returned from Lock, Stock.
Pitt turns in a spry performance as an Irish vagabond bare-knuckles boxer, Mickey O'Neil, who mumbles unintelligibly in what's a fairly amusing running joke. Living in a trailer park with his similarly incomprehensible family and mates, Mickey enters the story by knocking out the boxer who was about to fight a big match for a pair of aspiring shady boxing promoters, Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham). Needing a new fighter in a jiffy, the two entice Mickey to take the fallen lug's place and hope he'll have the good sense to hit the canvas when he's supposed to.
Meanwhile, thieves disguised as Hasidic Jews have ripped off an enormous diamond, and the thief called Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro, in a performance that doesn't draw particular attention to itself) has the job of delivering it to boss Avi (Dennis Farina) in New York. But Franky is a compulsive gambler, and a series of double-crosses involving a nasty Russian named Boris The Blade (Rade Sherbedgia) and some scheming pawn-shop owners ensures that the diamond won't reach its intended destination.
Soon Avi is in London with a thug-for-hire named Bullet Tooth Tony (hulking soccer star Vinnie Jones), and everyone - including a dog that swallows a squeaky toy - is sucked into this vortex of diamond thievery, kidnapping, cash rip-offs and mob-fixed boxing matches.
The joys of Snatch are the snappy, salty dialogue - low-life Brits have a livelier way of cussing each other out than American movie hoods - and the clever intricacy of Ritchie's plot construction. You see the filmmaker setting up all of the flips and switches, yet he still surprises you with how he triggers them and what mayhem they cause.
The bravura centerpiece is a series of collisions and mishaps during a car chase that Ritchie shows out of sequence. The punch lines aren't what happens as much as who turns out to be involved and how they got there. (Doug Liman pulled off a similar trick with the Sarah Polley car crash in Go.)
Just don't expect much more than the thrill ride.
The violence in Snatch is cartoonish, yet some of the consequences are incongruously tragic. Your only coherent option is to not make any emotional investment in what you're seeing.
What you're left with is the spectacle of a group of colorful nogoodniks trying to outmaneuver one another without getting thumped from behind. The multi-ethnic, multi-racial cast is as comfortable with Ritchie's rhythms as David Mamet's regulars are with his; only Farina, playing a caricature similar to his Get Shorty hood, seems out of step.
The Pulp Fiction ripple effect has pretty much dissipated, and that's not a bad thing.
But Ritchie's pulpy tales are more appealing than most because they're driven by a Tarantino-style energy and playfulness rather than sadism. The abundance of visual and verbal wit here ensures that the pleasure of watching Snatch need not be guilty.