Remember when Guy Ritchie was a fresh young director? Some people were (unfairly) calling him an English Tarantino. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels had to be sought out at the video store. Then he married Madonna and made some questionable film choices. Eventually he became one of the numerous indistinguishable blockerbuster filmmakers Hollywood goes too, his films being just a bit flashier than some.
Well, this film is like an album put out by a band which has been recording for 20 years, trying to recapture the glories of their first few records. It’s Guy Ritchie’s “back to basics” film and, like one of those albums, it’s very similar to the original product, it’s just better produced (and, since it’s a bigger film, there are bigger stars).
So much of this just feels like a bigger budget, all star Lock, Stock or Snatch, only the plot feels a little less farcical and there is a distinct vibe of someone who has not realized the world has changed in 20 years. (There is an awful lot of casual racism in this movie. You could argue that’s being true to the characters. But there’s also no need for Guy Ritchie to remake his early hits, right?)
The whole thing is noticeably more meta than the early movies, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it’s how Hugh Grant is in this movie, chewing the scenery as a gay private investigator who tells the story. It’s a bad thing because it feels like a pretty lazy contrivance – at least it’s one I’ve never particularly loved. (It’s been at least 100 years since people have been doing this and it’s a bit of a cliche at this point.) There are times when I wondered, could they not have found a different way of telling this story? Could Hugh Grant not tell the audience?
Everyone is a having a good time, as usual. But the dialogue feels both dated in the way mentioned above and kind of clunky, with its endless animal/jungle metaphors. I watched Snatch not that long ago and it didn’t feel this dated. (It did feel a bit dated, but not this dated.) I did laugh out loud a few times, so that’s something.
What’s inescapable is just the huge sense of deja vu. I’ve seen both Lock, Stock and Snatch more than once (though only Snatch recently) and it was impossible not to think of both of them as superior examples of the hyper-stylized British crime comedy. The fact that Ritchie made all three, but made the two better ones 20 years ago makes this film really feel like the work of someone trying to recapture their old magic, when he was an up-and-coming buzzed about filmmaker with a (relatively) unique style.