Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Director: Guy Ritchie
Screenplay: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Gramercy)

Grade: B-

Clever is all well and good -- in fact, few people appreciate clever as much as I, as virtually any belabored sentence chosen at random from this very site will attest -- but it is, in fact, possible to be too clever (further attestation available herein), and Ritchie's twisty-turny-hairpin-curvy début is a textbook example of what happens when an artist becomes too enamored of his own ingenuity. Lock, Stock's primary defect is exemplified by its too-cute title, a lumpy bit of wordplay that takes a moment or two to parse the first time you encounter it and is consequently witty only in retrospect, if at all; similarly, the first hour or so of the movie, which Ritchie spends gradually constructing a Chinese-puzzle-box structure involving no fewer than four (4) separate heists -- Gang One dead-set on ripping off Gang Two, which in turn is plotting a caper that'll divert Gang Three's riches into its members' own greedy hands, etc. -- is nothing more than an arduous, utterly uninvolving setup for what is admittedly a fiendishly clever third act. The nonstop posturing and aridly schematic plotting brought back unpleasant memories of The Usual Suspects, another popular and critically-acclaimed rear-engine thriller that bored me silly for what seemed like forever before partially redeeming itself with an ingenious climactic twist; the revelation of Keyser Soze's identity and modus operandi occupies but a few brief minutes of screen time, however, whereas Lock, Stock's narrative dominoes, once (finally!) set in motion, take a thoroughly entertaining half-hour or so to fully tumble. It's all rather weightless, true -- with a dozen-plus largely indistinguishable lowlifes scrambling to and fro, there's ultimately nobody to care about, nothing worth investing genuine emotion in -- but it's also so magnificently byzantine, so ostentatiously intricate, that dumbstruck awe is the only possible reaction. (At times, I felt an urge to applaud, as at the conclusion of a trickily verbose onstage monologue or a dazzlingly complex piano solo.) Getting there, alas, isn't remotely half the fun -- a lesson I'm ever-so-slowly endeavoring to learn myself.