[Screen It]

(2000) (Jason Statham, Brad Pitt) (R)

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Drama/Comedy: After an 84-carat diamond is stolen, all sorts of criminal types and shady characters get involved or are affected, in one way or another, in the various attempts to retrieve the stone.
Franky Four Fingers (BENICIO DEL TORO) is a diamond thief with a gambling problem who's just heisted an 84-carat stone in Antwerp for his boss, Avi (DENNIS FARINA), who's back in New York. Franky's supposed to deliver the diamond to Avi's jeweler cousin, Doug the Head (MIKE REID), in London, but Russian criminal Boris the Blade (RADE SHERBEDGIA) convinces him to place a bet on an illegal boxing match instead.

He does so because he's hired pawnshop owners Vinny (ROBBIE GEE) and Sol (LENNIE JAMES) and their overweight getaway driver, Tyrone (ADE), to rob Franky. Despite what seems like a foolproof plan, things go wrong, which can also be said about the endeavor begun by Turkish (JASON STATHAM) and his business partner Tommy (STEPHEN GRAHAM).

They've recently gotten into the unlicensed boxing business and have scheduled a fight with another boxing promoter, Brick Top (ALAN FORD), a notorious criminal kingpin who feeds his victims to the swine at his local pig farm. When a local gypsy, Mickey O'Neil (BRAD PITT), knocks out their contender, Gorgeous George (ADAM FOGERTY), in a street fight, the two suddenly find themselves in deep water since they no longer have a fighter to take a dive in the fourth round against Brick Top's competitor.

Things get worse when they convince Mickey to take Gorgeous George's place and he knocks out his opponent instead of taking that dive. Brick Top is furious, but agrees not to kill the two novice promoters if they can get Mickey to fight again, but get it right this time. Meanwhile, and having heard that Franky's missing, Avi boards a plane and heads for London, where he hires the seemingly unstoppable Bullet Tooth Tony (VINNIE JONES) to find Franky and retrieve the stone.

From that point on, the various paths of all those players crisscross as the preparation for the next boxing match and the hunt for the missing diamond set into motion a series of zany and chaotic events that end with plenty of violence.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
For every generation of new filmmakers, certain previous directors and their signature styles and work have obviously been influential to them. Some studied, learned from and/or even copied the look and feel earlier created by the likes of Orson Welles, John Ford and Frank Capra. A latter generation was obviously influenced by early films from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

Many of today's young filmmakers seem inspired not by any given director, but instead by the flashy visual theatrics of music videos seen on MTV and other off-air channels. That's usually a bad thing since most music videos favor style over substance and rarely last longer than a few minutes, neither of which bodes well for making an engaging and cohesive feature length film.

As such, while plenty of music video directors make their move to the big screen and often manage to come up with some interesting moments and visuals in their efforts, such effects usually stand out in a "look what I can do" manner, resulting in films that more often than not aren't that good.

Of course, there are exceptions to that observation and certain filmmakers not only manage to get away with including various bits of MTV style material, but also end up making some entertaining films. Writer/director Guy Ritchie (Madonna's new hubby) is one of those people.

After helming music videos and commercials, Ritchie hit the big screen in 1998 with the boisterous and violent "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" (released stateside in 1999). He's now returned to the criminal genre with his sophomore outing, "Snatch," a similarly uproarious and visually flashy black comedy that's just as entertaining as his first picture.

Filled with a large number of characters and plotlines that take a while to figure out and get straight (despite various onscreen titles and voice over narration), the film - like many violent, black comedies - clearly won't appeal to everyone's tastes.

If you object to brutal violence and other macabre and criminal behavior being used as a means toward humor, you'll probably want to skip this film (as the woman seated next to me wished she had). Yet, it's one of those pictures that's mesmerizing enough - albeit in a disturbing way - that many such viewers will be torn between getting up and leaving and laughing at the dark humor that runs through the picture.

Ritchie's unique visual style probably has something to do with that. While other black comedies usually present their darkly humorous material in an otherwise realistic fashion - and thus come off as more disturbing because of that - the zany and wildly innovative and imaginative style that Ritchie deploys throughout the film seems to take enough of an edge off the material to make it more comic bookish and thus palatable.

His seemingly bottomless bag of visual tricks certainly keeps the viewer visually stimulated, and like Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream," Ritchie employs some unique effects to represent more commonly seen, stock films moments (such as flying across the Atlantic) in a quicker, more economical and interesting way.

His twisting story, that involves multiple storylines that bump, crisscross and slam into each other, also keeps the viewer engaged, and includes some fun rewind moments where earlier scenes are seen again but from a different angle and in a slightly different context.

Like "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels" and other crime-based comedies such as "Get Shorty," the rest of the fun comes from the diverse and eclectic collection of characters that are all bad in one way or another and eventually get their comeuppance while pursuing their various illegal goals. Although no one performer is the star or central character of the film, certain actors and their performances do stand out.

Among them, Brad Pitt ("Seven," "Twelve Monkeys") is probably the most enjoyable as an Irish gypsy rogue with a nearly impenetrable accent. As in his other underground fighting film, "Fight Club," Pitt throws off the star-status robe and clearly seems to have a blast wallowing in his dirty and seedy character.

Dennis Farina ("Get Shorty," "Out of Sight") - who's made a career out of playing criminal sorts - is entertaining once again in his role, while Alan Ford ("The Long Good Friday," "An American Werewolf in London") and Rade Sherbedgia ("Eyes Wide Shut," "The Saint") are appropriately menacing as the film's more villainous villains. It's doubtful that anyone who sees this film will forget Brick Top's dissertation about pigs and everything about their ability to consume copious amounts of soylent green.

Robbie Gee (the BBC's "The Real McCoy"), Lennie James ("Among Giants," "Les Miserables") and Ade (making his feature film debut) are entertaining as some criminal poseurs, while Stephen Graham ("Blonde Fist," "Downtime") and Jason Statham ("Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels") are the same in their roles - with the latter also serving as the film's occasional narrator.

It's soccer player turned actor, Vinnie Jones ("Gone in 60 Seconds," "Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels"), however, who steals the show as a polite, but brutal thug. The scene where he calmly intimidates several men who have their guns on him is one of those witty, crowd pleasing moments that stand out in viewers' minds, and Jones clearly milks the scene for everything it's worth and then some.

While it may take a short while to become acclimated to the story and its multitude of characters and their connection to one another, once that happens, the film turns into an entertaining and madcap romp of twists, turns and visually imaginative filmmaking. Although clearly not for all viewers, if you don't mind the subject matter and approach that the filmmakers take in telling their story, you may just find this film - that's probably unlike most anything else you'll see all year - to your liking. We did, and thus "Snatch" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 16, 2001 / Posted January 19, 2001

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