Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels is a distinctive crime caper, splattered with violence and sharp dialogue. It's the latest contender for that coveted title `British Reservoir Dogs', but can't seem to throw the right punches. Finding the correct proportion of guns and gags is a quandary all good crim-flicks have to master; first-time director Ritchie fails to strike the proper balance. The black humour is uneasy throughout; at some points it seems forced, at others the cast act as if they are holding back for fear of breaking the mood.
The only one who appears completely comfortable with the material is Flemyng (Rob Roy, Hollow Reed), whose turn as the cashless Tom does no harm to his reputation as one of Blighty's finest young character actors. Mean-while former child star Dexter Fletcher at least manages to postpone that "Where Are They Now?" feature for another year. Elsewhere, Ritchie has plumped for realism, assembling a motley assortment of local boys (ex-con Lenny McLean, ex-model Jason Stratham, ex-Crazy Gang recruit Vinnie Jones) and he's rewarded with performances of equal parts authenticity and amateurism.
While the cast struggle manfully with the stylised dialogue, Ritchie struggles to keep his torturous plot in order. His own instincts don't help: Tarantino was a video-store geek with a passion for films, whereas Ritchie is a music-vid veteran in love with the camera. So, for every deft touch, you get a flashy indulgence: some scenes would be more at home on MTV.
But there's still fun to be had, particularly watching Jones as Big Chris the debt collector; he does on film what he's been doing to opponents on the football pitch for the past decade. But it's only in the final third, when the disparate plot strands finally come together, that there's enough momentum to sustain both the tension and the humour.
An intriguing cast are largely wasted in this frantic gangland flick, which amounts to little more than sound and fury. Nevertheless, this bold, defiantly adult movie is further proof that the British film industry is entering into a state of rude health.