A sense of the familiar hangs over “Snatch,” which, for a picture as slick, quick and light-fingered as this one, is definitely an odd thing to remark on.
But for those with fond memories of writer-director Guy Ritchie’s kinetic debut, “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” is more than recognizable. While the new film (opening for a week for Oscar consideration in Los Angeles only) is a brisk, cheerfully amoral entertainment in its own right, it can’t help but lack the element of surprise and delight in a new sensibility the first one offered.
Back again are the elements that made “Lock, Stock” so engaging: a London underworld setting, a fearsomely complex plot line, hordes of colorful characters with names like Mad Fist Willy and Jack the All Seeing Eye, plus the distinctively breezy dialogue that is Ritchie’s trademark.
Given that bare-knuckles boxing is a key plot element, the violence in “Snatch” is more out front than in the last film, but Ritchie’s belief in a dizzying visual pace (Jon Harris is the editor) keeps it from being more troublesome than it would otherwise be.
“Lock, Stock’s” success also gave Ritchie access to a more celebrated level of acting, which is how Brad Pitt ends up as part of the ensemble, doing some of the most relaxed and genial work he’s managed in a while as Irish Gypsy boxer Mickey O’Neil.
A man called Turkish (Jason Statham), named after the airline his parents met on, is the film’s narrator. He’s a boxing promoter, he tells us, and he knows nothing about diamonds, which is the film’s cue to flashback immediately to Antwerp, where a dizzying robbery takes place in the Orthodox Jewish diamond district.
Lifted in the snatch is a flawless 86-carat gem the size of an infant’s fist. Taking it to London is Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro with a feeble Jewish accent), a city that’s supposedly only a stopover before the gem is delivered to criminal bigwig Avi (Dennis Farina) in New York.
But because Franky can’t resist temptation and London is a town with its share, a small crowd of miscreants and malefactors eventually ends up chasing that diamond and one another. These include:
* Doug the Head (Mike Reid), a jeweler who pretends he’s Jewish because it’s good for business;
* Boris the Blade (Rade Sherbedgia), a Russian gangster with a deserved reputation for being impossible to kill;
* Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones, a standout in “Lock, Stock”), a legendary hard guy;
* Brick Top (the veteran Alan Ford, with credits that go back as far as “The Long Good Friday”), perhaps the scariest of the lot. Willing to take bets on anything involving blood and pain, Brick Top takes pleasure in literally feeding his enemies to the pigs and brings a special verbal twist to lines like, “Do you know what nemesis is?”
None of this concerns Turkish, at least at first. All he wants is a new trailer to use as an office, and he sends a pal to do the purchasing from one of the several groups “Snatch” genially stereotypes, the Gypsies or, to use the British slang, the pikeys.
King of this particular crowd is Mickey O’Neil, who’s both a peerless boxer and a lad with such a thick Irish accent one of the film’s running jokes is that no one can understand him. Pitt seems to be truly enjoying himself in this cockeyed role, kind of a “Fight Club” persona without the pretension, and for once we get to share his pleasure.
Loaded with jazzy sequences (a seconds-long plane trip to New York is especially deft) and attitude-heavy dialogue of the “you took the jam out of my doughnut” variety, this modern look at a Dickensian underworld comes to involve killers who can’t hurt dogs and corpses with tea cozies on their heads. Even if it’s not quite as lighter than air as its predecessor, “Snatch” remains a lethal diversion.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence, language and some nudity. Times guidelines: serious violence and profanity.
Benicio Del Toro: Franky Four Fingers
Dennis Farina: Avi
Vinnie Jones: Bullet Tooth Tony
Brad Pitt: Mickey O’Neil
Rade Sherbedgia: Boris the Blade
Jason Statham: Turkish
A SKA Films production, released by Screen Gems. Director Guy Ritchie. Producer Matthew Vaughn. Executive producers Peter Morton, Steve Tisch, Stephen Marks, Angad Paul, Trudie Styler. Screenplay Guy Ritchie. Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones. Editor Jon Harris. Costumes Verity Hawkes. Music John Murphy. Production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
In limited release.