Barrels concerns the problems of 4 British buddies who owe a big shot mobster name Hatchet Harry $500,000 English pounds and must get the money together in one week. The problem came about when the four buddies saved up $25,000 each in order to deal their friend, a card shark name Eddie, into a high-stakes poker game. Eddie loses their money and more when Harry, who is in the card game, uses a hidden video camera to cheat. Now up to their heads in trouble, the boys must find a way to repay the mobster before their fingers are chopped off by the mobster’s many enforcers, including a bone breaker who takes his son to jobs with him.
Add to that a group of potheads who is making a killing feeding the pot habits of everyone in England, a neighbor of Eddie’s who happens to be another mobster who is intent on stealing the potheads’ profits, and singer Sting showing up as Eddie’s father, who owns a bar he will lose if his son doesn’t get the money together. Barrels takes the Pulp Fiction road on its way to an Expensive Two Guys in a Room movie, in that there are multiple characters with multiple storylines that eventually converges into one. Everything seems out of place and unrelated until they start to coalesce and reminds us that yes, we are watching just one movie. Needless to say, your ability to believe in the existence of one coincidence after another is paramount to your enjoyment of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
Guy Ritchie shows flashes of brilliance in camera work and technique. There are scenes, as when a pothead girl suddenly comes awake during a robbery and opens fire with a machinegun, that is just an inspiration. The film is shot in a bleached style, giving the characters and their environments a brown-tinted look, making everyone and everything seem pale and unreal. The rest of the movie is made up of groovy camera angles, fast-forwards and freeze-frames.
With a movie like this, made up of more than 30 characters with extensive dialogue, it’s easy to get lost in who’s who. Ritchie uses freeze frames and a narrator to try to keep us organized, but even then, it’s quite hard to follow. What makes the movie even more difficult to get a handle on is that characters start to look like one another after a while. The various mobsters, for example, all look, act, and talk the same. There is nothing to really distinguish them from one another.
Like the highly overrated Pulp Fiction that came before it, Barrels offers very little to the modern world except a fantasized version of the criminal underworld as envisioned by a video store clerk. (I don’t know Ritchie’s background, but Tarantino’s background as a video store clerk ala Kevin Smith is legendary. Ritchie and Tarantino obviously have no clue as to the “real” underworld — their version of the underworld is akin to a Disney version of Saving Private Ryan starring Mickey Mouse.)
If you like goofy fun with spurts of violence, take a look at Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels. If you don’t, well, don’t.
Guy Ritchie (director) / Guy Ritchie (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Flemyng …. Tom
Dexter Fletcher …. Soap
Nick Moran …. Eddie
Jason Statham …. Bacon