Moviegoers nostalgic for those halcyon days of the late 1990’s when the influence of Pulp Fiction loomed large over the cineplex have reason to rejoice: the spirit of Tarantino is alive and well in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Known to indie film fans as the director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (and to everyone else as That British Guy Who Just Married Madonna), Ritchie returns with a crowded caper flick that’s a near carbon copy of his debut feature, this time with a few Hollywood ringers in tow. A lurid exercise in excess, Snatch annoys as often as it entertains.
With only two pictures to his credit, Ritchie has already established a recognizable formula. The first ten minutes of Snatch introduce about 87 different characters, all equipped with monikers straight out of the Dick Tracy rogues gallery: Bullet Tooth Tony, Brick Top and Doug the Head are among the scoundrels and thugs that populate this virtually all-male universe. Each comes equipped with an arsenal capable of taking out the government of a small Latin American country and an accent previously unheard on this planet. The most impenetrable enunciation of all comes courtesy of a slumming Brad Pitt, who does a lilting Irish riff on Benicio Del Toro’s marble-mouthed Fenster from The Usual Suspects. To confuse matters further, Del Toro himself is on hand in Snatch, this time essaying a Hasidic mumble as diamond thief Frankie Four Fingers. American audiences will sigh with relief whenever Dennis Farina appears onscreen, as his New York jeweler Cousin Avi sports Farina’s usual Chicago honk.
There is a story here, albeit one that exists mostly as a framework for rival bands of goons to cross paths and start shooting at each other. Most of the hoodlums are after the same thing: the golfball-sized diamond Frankie Four Fingers has heisted and brought to London. Frankie’s got a gambling problem and has the misfortune of arriving at a bookie shop just as it’s being hit by a gang of bungling thieves. All bets are off at the bookie’s in any case, since there’s been a last minute switcheroo in the bare-knuckle boxing match meant to be the evening’s top attraction. One Punch Mickey (Pitt), having decked one of the contenders earlier in the day, is recruited as a substitute in the match and given orders to go down in the fourth round. Those orders come from Brick Top (Alan Ford), a venomous mob boss given to feeding those who cross him to his pet pigs (shades of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal).
And there’s more, much more – more oddly-named criminals, more bizarre tongue-twisting dialects, more carnage and gunfire than anything since…well, since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Ritchie isn’t reinventing the wheel here; he employs the hyperactive filmmaking technique that so many of our millennial auteurs-in-their-own-minds mistake for wizardry. Snatch is all freeze-frames, spinning camera angles, split-screens, sped-up motion and repetitive montages – it’s the theme park school of directing, for better and for worse. To be sure, there are pleasures to be had, mainly courtesy of the cast. Del Toro adds another memorable mushmouth to his repertoire (though his screen time is disappointingly brief), Pitt is in his element with a funny, winning supporting turn, and Alan Ford exudes seedy menace as the British kingpin. But the dialogue is never quite as witty as it thinks it is, and the convoluted narrative and endless gun battles become wearisome over time. While there is a certain charm in the way Snatch literally ends up a shaggy dog story (or in this case, a squeaky dog story), the whole enterprise has a been-there, done-that vibe that it never quite overcomes. Ritchie would do well to explore some new territory next time out, lest he be tagged with a nickname suitable for one of his screen characters – One Trick Guy.