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Saturday, March 24, 2001

'SNATCH'

Ritchie's rogues return


"Snatch" is more than a movie: It's a bubbling, babbling comic strip on wheels. Not fitting into the usual British movie mold -- it's neither a Merchant-Ivory rendition of upper-crust angst, nor a working-class saga passed on by Ken Loach -- "Snatch" is in a genre by itself, showcasing a crack ensemble of Londoners, who could have been scanned from the Rogue's Gallery of "Dick Tracy." Except, of course, for their accents.

Jason Statham, Brad Pitt and Stephen Graham in "Snatch"

"Snatch" is writer/director Guy Ritchie's second movie and though he does little else than duplicate all that had worked in his previous, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (camera moving at sprinter-speed, slangy and irreverent dialogue, quirky methods of murder), it is nonetheless hugely enjoyable. It's as if he mixes a second round of drinks which tastes almost as fresh and invigorating as the first and from what I hear, this doesn't happen often in a Brit's flat.

In case you didn't know, Ritchie is currently high on the list of Hippest Brits in the World, probably just a notch or two under Prince William. Since the eye-opening "Lock, Stock" he has been deluged with project offers from Hollywood execs, drowned by private-party invitations and commanded by Madonna to be the father of her second child. And no less a personage than Brad Pitt flew to London just to say: "I want to work with you. Use me in your next picture" (or a close approximation of that).

Talk about a life-altering project. One minute he's chugging warm beer with his mates on Portobello Road and the next minute, he's living with Madonna, and Brad Pitt's in the living room. What a story to tell the grandchildren.

Judging from this latest however, Ritchie hasn't let any of the fame and perks change his style of filmmaking, which is probably best described as Tarantino in a Burberry trench coat. And though Brad Pitt is touted as the centerpiece, that's just box-office tactics. Ritchie makes sure Pitt is just one among the crowd of talents that push and elbow each other up on screen. No special treatment, or even one second of screen-time more than any other deserving chappie.

Ditto for other stellar names like Benicio Del Toro, whose presence is definitely a treat, but obviously an English treat -- meaning it's over in 10 minutes flat. As for U.K.'s homegrown Jason Flemyng, he's allotted just two lines and that's it. If Ritchie was in any way impressed by stardom, he certainly keeps it under wraps.

The story is messy and scattered all over the place, much like a boy's room that mom hollers at him to clean. That's the charm of it. Plus there are so many characters one feels the need to take a roll call: seedy Londoners, underground types with cartoony names like Boris the Blade, Bullet Tooth Tony, Brick Top and Franky Four Fingers.

All these gents would make a great merchandising collection, especially Franky (Del Toro) who spends half his share of screen-time dressed unrecognizably in Hassidic diamond merchant garb and the other half tied to a chair with a tea cozy over his face. Then there's Tyrone (played by an actor known only as Ade) whose movements and girth would fit nicely the spot vacated by Konishiki. He has the kind of unforgettable facial features that show up even from behind a very tight ski mask.

All these blokes and more join in the mad pursuit of "a diamond the size of a fist," originally stolen from a Jewish jewelers in Antwerp. The stone was meant to be delivered into the hands of Cousin Avi (Dennis Farina) in New York, but things get hopelessly complicated as every faction of London scum-of-the-earths shove fingers in the pie with one hand and shoot aimlessly (and I mean aimlessly) at one another with the other hand. And this being London, no one forgets to stop for a "cup o' tay" at decent intervals, even at gunpoint. ("Do you take sugar?")

It gets so that Avi himself must fly over to take charge. He's not happy about it, as his description of London goes to the tune of: "fish, chips, bad food, worse weather . . . London!" He didn't bargain however, for the fact that it's practically impossible for a New York Jew to understand what the average London criminal is saying. That goes double for Mickey "One Punch" O'Neil (Pitt), the "pikey" (gypsy) who lives on a campsite and gets his rocks off terrorizing the casual hood who wanders in looking for a fight. Mickey's lingo is so garbled you wonder if Pitt wasn't making it all up but a Brit friend says it's all "genuine pikey," word for word. Ritchie pulls off a total tour de force here: deploying a mega-watt Hollywood star and giving him lines that the average American would never catch without subtitles. But then maybe the lines are beside the point. Pitt's sun-blond existence penetrates even the gray skies of London. Oh, sigh. But don't listen to me. According to the editor of this page, my "Burapi" fixation can only be cured by therapy.

"Snatch" is playing at Hibiya Scala and other theaters.


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