No one can fill a promotional T-shirt like Madonna. That’s lucky for Guy Ritchie, 32, the British writer and director she married in Scotland on December 22nd. The forty-two-year-old Material Girl has gone public for her hubby’s new movie, but forget seeing naughty bits: There’s nothing pubic about Snatch. This gonzo guy flick, about low-rent London scuzzballs involved in a diamond heist, does not feature Mrs. Ritchie, though tribute is paid when her Eighties hit “Lucky Star” blares on a car radio. Snatch is a rock-’em-sock-’em crime caper in the style of Ritchie’s testosterone-fueled 1998 debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The film’s babe magnets, Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro, get shot at but not shagged. That’s the Ritchie way, and if the media hounds who’ve been sniffing around since he married his diva don’t like it, they can bugger off.
Snatch is already catching flak. Sir Richard Attenborough, the Oscar-winning director of Gandhi, calls the film “crap” and accuses Ritchie of wallowing in “the pornography of violence.” On the personal front, Ritchie is being labeled a sham for passing as a gutter-bred bloke. Unlike his characters, Ritchie came from money and enjoyed fox-hunting on his stepfather’s estate in Shropshire. Tricky, the trip-hop trailblazer, says Ritchie is “a posh boy pretending to be street.” Madonna knows this drill. She does things big, and she’s learned to take the heat of success (singing) and failure (acting). To his credit, Ritchie works small — the $6 million budget for Snatch is chump change by Hollywood standards — but that leaves him vulnerable to the scalding glare of Madonna’s spotlight. He’ll survive. Snatch is more than a hobby for Madonna’s latest boy toy. Here’s why:
Ritchie has a gift for lively dialogue and action. Yes, there’s a Tarantino thrust to Ritchie’s pulp fiction and a surreal Trainspotting spin to his camerawork, and his experience making music videos for German dance bands shows in the fast cuts and jagged pacing. But Ritchie’s got something all his own: a go-for-broke energy that cuts through the cliches of the crime genre.
The plot is a jumble, but a merry one. An eighty-six-carat diamond — that’s a fist-size rock — is stolen from a jeweler in Belgium. Del Toro, pistol-hot in Traffic and terrific here, plays Franky Four Fingers, a stylish Jewish jewel thief who is charged with delivering the diamond to Avi (Dennis Farina), his boss in New York. But when Franky stops off at a London bookie joint to bet on a boxing match run by Russian gangster Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija), the sting kicks in. Boris arranges for Sol (Lennie James), a black hired gun, to rob the bookie with the help of Vinnie (Robbie Gee) and fatso getaway driver Tyrone (newcomer Ade is something to see). A furious Avi then hires Bullet Tooth Tony (soccer legend and scene-stealer Vinny Jones) to bust heads. And what happens when they think a dog has swallowed the diamond — ouch!
Brad Pitt has more fun than anybody as Mickey O’Neil, an Irish gypsy, mama’s boy and lethal bare-knuckle boxer. Boxing — ah, there’s the tie-in. Mickey wants to buy his mum a mobile home but doesn’t have the sense to take a dive even when his promoters, Turkish (Jason Statham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham), tell him that the local bigshot, Brick Top (a wonderfully sadistic Alan Ford), will throw Mickey and them to his ravenous pigs if he doesn’t throw the fight. It doesn’t help that no one can understand a bloody word Mickey says. Pitt’s indecipherable accent is a one-joke hoot on which the actor plays hilarious variations.
Despite the frenzy of gory action and dismemberment, and dialogue that often requires a dictionary of British slang to negotiate, Ritchie makes a party of this gathering of geezers, pikers and “mincey faggoty balls.” The killer soundtrack shifts without shame from Oasis’ “Fuckin’ in the Bushes” to a snippet of “Hava Nagila.” As for Ritchie’s future as a filmmaker, the jury is still out. He’s not breaking new ground with Snatch, merely fine-tuning the knack for disreputable kicks he showed in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Still, I wouldn’t write off Ritchie as a one-trick pony just yet. He’s married to the queen mother of reinvention.