Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
The Movie: “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”
Starring: Jason Flemyng, Jason Statham, Nick Moran
Director: Guy Ritchie
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A botched card game in London triggers four friends, thugs, weed-growers, hard gangsters, loan sharks and debt collectors to collide with each other in a series of unexpected events, all for the sake of weed, cash and two antique shotguns.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75 percent
Froemming: I’m not done with the Europeans.
Last week, I was deeply annoyed by the remake of “Suspiria,” a movie that gave the world the ultimate “what if” question: What if Tilda Swinton made “The Nutty Professor.”
I did not want to leave our good friends across the pond with such an awful taste in my mouth, so I decided to revisit a film I saw as a young man in the late 1990s that convinced me that not all indie-ish British movies were as awful as “Trainspotting,” one of the worst movies I have ever seen.
I went with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” a film that raised the question: What would a Tarantino movie be like if he was British?
Well, we are going to find out. Brown, while I prepare to cheat on this card game with a hidden camera, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: My first thought is I had no earthly idea what this movie was about until this week.
To elaborate on that point, when Froemming told me we were going to review “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” I thought, sweet, a Clint Eastwood western.
I wasn’t even in the same country, let alone the same ballpark.
Once I got over my ignorant shock, I could see the Tarantino influences. But, it’s England in the late 1990s so I ended this movie thinking we just watched the band Oasis pull off the most happenstance of capers in all of history.
We’ll get into it, but I have another unnecessarily long title for this movie: “Don’t Look A Gift Horse in the Mouth.”
We’ll get into it. In the meantime, Froemming, mind getting this started while I try to maneuver guns in my hand and a phone in my mouth?
Froemming: Well, I want to get this out of the way: It is weird seeing Jason Statham as a younger man and not in a “Fast and Furious” movie. He exhibits no martial arts moves and I am not even sure he carries a gun in this, so we know Guy Ritchie really had no idea the talent he had here.
Brown: Before this review, I made a trip to Target and saw “Hobbs and Shaw” is out on DVD. I will be getting the highest-def version of that movie possible.
Froemming: That was all sold out at the Target here in Fargo when I went the other day. I was bummed.
Anyway, it is the 1990s London and four friends are pooling their money together so their card shark pal can win at a risky, high-stakes card game. How these four doofuses in their 20s each have £25,000 each is beyond me. I am starting to suspect things are a little different over there than here, because I still don’t have any friends with $25-30,000 just lying around. Let alone lying around to be wasted on some card game.
Brown: I mean, I have a $20. Can that get me in the high-roller game?
Froemming: That barely gets you two meals at a McDonald’s.
But here we are. Our crew is made up of Eddy, Tom, Soap, and Bacon (I really have no idea what was happening in London in the 90s that led to such ridiculous names) and Eddy is the guy who thinks he can win this big game. How? Is he really good at cards?
Nope. He can detect a “tell” in anyone while playing cards. Which is pretty cool, but it would be even better if you knew how to play cards well too.
Brown: So this is “Rounders: England Edition.” I mean, there’s no guy fidgeting around with Oreos like John Malkovich in that movie.
Plus, Eddy doesn’t win.
While his buddies are getting weird about umbrella drinks at a bar called Samoan Jo’s (and not famed pro wrestler Samoa Joe), Eddy is getting cheated.
How? The guy running the game, the awesomely-named “Hatchet” Harry has a camera planted in the gym they’re playing at. And his number two, Barry “the Baptist” (I love the gangster names in this movie), is cluing Harry in on what cards Eddy has.
And the cheating is done in the EXACT. SAME. WAY. It’s done in “Casino.” Only we won’t get any cheater’s justice.
Froemming: The stakes go up, and Eddy ends up suffering from hubris and borrows against Harry, only to put himself and his buddies in the hole £500,000. I mean, I for one am shocked that a guy like Harry who operates a porno shop would also be a shady businessman who runs his own little mafia, but alas, that is what he is.
Brown: I would have felt more for Eddy and co. in this instance if I knew what in the hell card game they were playing. Wikipedia says it was three-card brag. No earthly idea what the hell that is. Then again, I have barely graduated past Go Fish.
Froemming: I won’t pretend to understand what goes on in London, as I am sure Londoners don’t pretend to understand how things run in North Dakota.
And now these four are in the hole. To make matters even worse, we find out Eddy’s dad is Sting, which is just horrible to know. I mean, I’d hate myself if my dad wrote “Roxanne.”
Not only does Eddy have to suffer knowing his father is the guy who unleashed upon the world “Fields of Gold,” Sting’s bar is now up for grabs from Harry if the kid doesn’t pay.
Brown: Note to self: with Froemming’s hatred of Sting, we need to review “Dune.”
I mean, how do alarm bells not go off in your head when the guy you’re in a big hand with in cards is offering to spot you money? You have to know that a fix is in. I think Eddy was in the neon claws of Gamblor.
Not only do Eddy, Tom, Soap and Bacon now owe a porno king called “Hatchet” Harry £500,000, they have to have it in a week. To make sure of that, Harry has enlisted the services of Big Chris, played by Vinnie Jones, who is one of those guys who probably loves his mama and America, too… or the Queen because British and all. But, he’ll always be a hired goon in movies because he’s physically TOO perfect for that kind of role.
Froemming: And let’s be honest, he is pretty great in this. Like when someone swears around his son, Little Chris, or the child himself swears, he goes into dad-mode, but with an angry working class twist.
Now, this movie is set up with three side plots outside our four buddies. We are introduced to the first one soon after with the schlubby Gary and Dean being hired by Barry to steal some antique guns. The second one is made of a crew of stoners who sell pot and have a cage in their home for protection, yet rarely ever use it. The third is Rory Breaker, a criminal of some sort we met at Samoan Jo’s who goes a bit overboard if you change the channel on a TV he is watching. I get it man, nobody likes that, but setting a man on fire over it is a little extreme. Unless that jerk changed it to “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” then being set ablaze is far too kind.
Brown: I thought the pub was the scene of an anchorman fight.
So all the B-plots… that took me a while to warm up to. At the risk of showing my hand too early with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” it took me a while to get into this movie. Looking back at it now, it’s clear Guy Ritchie was going for a Tarantino “Pulp Fiction” thing but it didn’t click with me. That may just be a cultural thing where I found the Americans charming and the Brits grating. It felt like a slog in the first half, but I really got into it in the second half.
Something I never got into: The constant (REDACTED) sepia tone this movie was shot in. Either use color or go black and white. Don’t make movies where I think I’m watching through a beer mug or that you filmed through an Instagram filter.
Froemming: I agree. Maybe it was he couldn’t afford color correction? If that was the case, then do what Kevin Smith did with “Clerks” and shoot it in black and white, just for consistency.
Now Barry has hired these two weirdos to sack a house for antique guns. And, frankly, while I see it for the comic relief it was going for, these two were just too much, especially the one with the perm.
So, they break into this old mansion and tie up the folks living there and steal the guns, though they have no idea what guns there were supposed to take, because like all problems in the world, a lack of communication is the root. And I get it, they’re British, they don’t want to be rude asking simple clarifications, but the Crown be damned here and just ask for specifics. Also, the one with the perm HAD to get shot in the hair during the robbery. Sorry, Guy Ritchie, leave the British humor to Monty Python.
Brown: Yeah, the whole subplot of the antique guns (the two smoking barrels, as it were) felt a little tacked on. It was like Guy Ritchie was a big fan of “Home Alone” and wanted his own version of the Wet Bandits, except the hairy one almost gets beheaded “Scanners” style.
But they do end up getting the antique guns… plus a few more. And because they were not really informed (or they’re just really stupid), the Wet Bandits end up selling the antique guns to a middleman named Nick who sells them to Eddy, Tom, Soap and Bacon.
Why do they need guns? Besides being threatened to have a finger cut off for every day they’re late with Harry’s money, they are planning a robbery. See, the walls in Eddy’s apartment are paper thin and they hear about how a pack of dudes, led by a man named Dog. Dog and co. are going to rob our lax stoners, and Eddy and co. are going to ROB the robbers. What an M. Night Shyamalan twist!
Also, when this robbery of a robbery is being planned, Soap is WAY too into it. Like, he brings knives and a machete to this whole thing. Clearly, he’s either thought of killing before or has killed before. He is the Dennis Reynolds of this gang.
Froemming: If you are planning a heist, you need a sociopath like Soap. Who else would consider knives over guns because they are more quiet and gruesome? Bacon isn’t, he is too busy plotting his life out to be Deckard Shaw, international terrorist/mercenary.
Brown: Soap is literally Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Froemming: Dog is literally every guy in college in the mid-2000s that thought frosted tips were cool.
Now, I am going to give the basics on the stoners, because they are not that entertaining. They grow in-house large quantities of pot. They have this cage to prevent someone from robbing them. They rarely use it. They don’t screen that well, because one of Dog’s buddies looks like Charles Manson goes there to buy pot and hang out with them, even though he is in his 40s, which is depressing.
Manson sees the money they make and the product, so he lets Dog in on what they are about and so they target this group of future Phish fans to rob. So, there is that story in a nut.
Back to our buddies: Yeah, they got these two antique guns, they are going to rob their neighbors because that is probably the easiest way for them to get Harry his money, and frankly Dog rubbed the wrong way so much that if I lived next door to him, I’d rob him blind too. On principle.
Also, wouldn’t Dog and his crew hear them plotting their robbery? Thin walls go both ways. That is a #FACT.
Brown: Yeah, I didn’t get that as well. The only “excuse” I could think of is the wall with the vent (that we see later doesn’t go both ways) is in a closet. But a couple things don’t make sense there. A. Who keeps a closet open all the time to be able to hear through a thin wall? B. Why is there a vent in the closet? What idiot build a central air unit that has a vent in a closet that normal people close. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if it was some British thing where they have a vent in a closet to keep their coats warm or something stupid.
Froemming: This is why they lost the war, Brown.
Brown: Dude, quiet. They’ll save our asses in World War III.
So the robbery of the stoners is where the movie turned to the positive for me. Because:
- Hippies get hurt
- Needing protection for such an occasion, the hippies’ idea of arming themselves is with an air rifle that’s lucky to break the skin. In college, my neighbors had air-soft guns and while they sting, unless you’re getting someone in the eye, you ain’t doing much.
- While the hippies are woefully underprepared, the crooks are hilariously over-prepared like they got a cheat code in a “Grand Theft Auto” game and got the gnarliest machine gun in the game.
- This movie pulls a “Half-Baked” and has a woman who does nothing but sleep on their couch. She blends in with her leopard print top. And when the robbery makes its way upstairs, she takes the machine gun and shoots up the place.
Talking fast and loose like Brits are wont to do doesn’t make me laugh. Dark humor involving guns and hurting dirty hippies, that’s my God-given right as an American!
Froemming: The girl going all Rambo on the robbers is great. But, she only gets one guy and they take off with their haul. They also knocked out some traffic cop who was going to write them a ticket for parking. So he is there too.
So, Dog and his crew get back to their place, only to get robbed themselves. That’s just karma, Dog. And our four heroes make off with a large amount of money and a large amount of pot. And a traffic cop that Bacon can’t for the life of him knock out. Which makes his threats to Hobbs later in life even more laughable.
But they need to sell this weed. And Nick has them a buyer in Rory Breaker. Poor Nick, every meeting with Rory he finds a way to break a table top or dump his drink on the ground. Nick is basically Jerry Gergich from “Parks and Rec.”
Brown: Nick is that scene from “The Office” where Kevin spills his chili all over the floor in human form.
Froemming: Rory is the guy who is backing the stoners, so they are basically selling him back his own stolen merchandise.
London is a big city. The odds of this sort of thing has to be astronomical, right? I like how it is written and how it all ties here together, but my suspension of disbelief can only go so far.
Dog, meanwhile, wants to know how they were robbed. How did the robbers know they would be there, at that time, with all that loot. Because, I am guessing, his ears do not work well, he missed his neighbors plotting to rob him blind.
Brown: That is until he throws one of his goons through the wall like he’s The Rock Obama and finds out how poor quality of drywall his landlord uses. Seriously, England is a cold place. No insulation, guy?
Froemming: This is why they lost the war, Brown.
So now they know their neighbors swindled them with guns and threats of violence. At this time, Nick finds out from Rory that the weed he wants to sell is from Rory’s recently robbed stoner employees, so you know, Nick really pulled a Jerry there. And Big Chris is heading out to collect from our four doofuses who owe Harry money.
Where are our four doofuses? On their way home after a wild night at the bar.
So what we have here is the dumbest luck and happenstance for our heroes, because everyone is going to their place guns a blazing, while they are not there. Chris to pick up the money, Rory to get his stuff back. Dog and his hired goons to take out Eddy and the crew.
It is really well done. Just poor timing on everyone’s part except for Eddy and the crew, who just happen to (REDACTED) Gump their way out of a debt and shotgun blasts to the face.
I do love Big Chris knocking out Dog with a headbutt, like he is in the WWE or something, and taking the antique guns and bag of cash, thinking this is Eddy’s debt and, well, cool guns for his boss.
Brown: If this were made years later, I would guess that Vinnie Jones picked up how to do a WWE-style head butt from Stone Cold Steve Austin when they worked together on “The Condemned.”
Note to self: Pick “The Condemned” in the future.
So now we have Rory and his pack of Ving Rhames clones dead. Big Chris has the guns and the money. And our “heroes (?)” return to the apartment all torn up, knowing Eddy isn’t getting his deposit back.
Incensed, Dog goes after Big Chris. And after Big Chris delivers the guns and money back to Harry, Dog is holding Little Chris by knifepoint. This… ends poorly for Dog as he dies via car door bludgeoning. Not a great way to go.
Froemming: Note to self: Never get on Vinnie Jones’ bad side.
At Harry’s, our two failed-antique gun thieves arrive to see Harry has the guns they need to get to Barry, not knowing Barry is working for the guy. Again, communication is key in such situations. This leads to Harry, Barry and these two all killing one another.
Eddy and the crew arrive at Harry’s because they are baffled as to why the debt is settled and Harry wanted to know about the guns.
Alas, like Eddy’s apartment, Harry’s office will never get its cleaning deposit back. Everyone is dead, and they realize they are in the clear, with the guns and cash.
Well, no. Big Chris comes along and gets the cash from them, but they still have these priceless guns they think are just old junk.
A lot happens here in the end, all the stories finally intersect, and 90 percent of the cast is murdered.
But one tragedy is unavoidable: Eddy is still the son of Sting. And such a fate is more cruel than anything else in this movie. Man, I really hate The Police and Sting’s crappy solo music. Just an obnoxious fart of a human.
Brown: If you were talking about hating WCW Sting, we would have fighting words. The only concern I have with the Sting you hate is how charitable he is. Remember when he wrote that song about the boy trapped in a well?
Froemming: “The Simpsons” also had Michael Jackson on their show during the Golden Era. It is not a perfect show, Brown.
Alas, after being interviewed by the cops, Eddy, Tom, Soap and Bacon really can’t be connected to any of this, since they were never around when they violence went off. And they wrongly think they really didn’t do anything wrong.
They engaged in an illegal gambling game. They robbed people at gunpoint. I know it isn’t illegal, but one is the offspring of Sting, which should be illegal.
Brown: What did Sting do to you?
Froemming: Made the worst music in the world, Brown. That is what he did. For more than four decades and counting.
So, yeah, they didn’t get caught and Gumped their way out of a jam, but some of this blood is on their hands.
Only one thing is left connecting them to what happened: The two antique guns that Tom has kept because he paid £700 for them, and I get it. A guy has £25,000 just laying about earlier and he is worried about money now, because while they are not arrested, they are stone cold broke now.
But they convince him to get rid of them, which is smart. The smartest thing they do all movie. And here is the twist: Big Chris comes into the bar and gives them their bag back, empty except for a gun magazine which lists the value of those guns. And they try desperately to get a hold of Tom to prevent him from throwing them into the river.
This is a huge (REDACTED) mistake. Those guns were stolen at gunpoint. The owners probably have paperwork and whatnot, so unless these morons know a solid black market to dump them, they will be arrested for trying to sell them.
That will then link them to the two doofuses who robbed the place. They were just found murdered. So, WHY DO THEY WANT TO TRY AND GET THESE GUNS BACK?
It is a stupid ending to an otherwise fun movie.
Brown: I thought it was a perfectly cromulent ending for what this movie ended up being: an action comedy. And yeah, there’s no paperwork for those guns but that didn’t stop Harry for going all out in getting them. Someone will spend a stupid amount of money for anything. I should know: I paid $140 for less than a pound of wagyu steak. Worth it.
I hear my neighbors talking about crimes through my wall. Let’s say we get to recommendations so we can rob them blind.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Yup, I like it a lot. Maybe not as much as I did when I saw it at 18, but it still stands up. Give it a watch.
Brown: This was a good time. Well, the second half for sure. Give it a watch.