Tag Archives: D

SNATCH

Grade: D-

One of the obnoxious characters (or more properly, crude stick-figures) in Guy Ritchie’s appropriately sophomoric second feature–a vicious thug charmingly nicknamed Bullet Tooth Tony–remarks midway through the picture on the predictability of stupidity. The picture proves him only partially correct. “Snatch” is certainly stupid–as well as ugly and, more often than not, incomprehensible–but, like most bad heist movies, it’s not predictable in the sense that a viewer can always tell what’s going to happen next. Instead, in its self-conscious effort to seem clever, the movie is all narrative convolution and jagged technique, deliberately devised to make it difficult to follow. The writer-director’s apparent hope is that viewers will find the work of deciphering it pleasurable. But he doesn’t succeed in this ambition, because his picture ispredictable in the sense that after enduring its grossness, whiplash editing and ear-splitting soundtrack for a half-hour or so, one arrives at a morose certainty that whatever twists the story might take, the result is going to be a flashy but shrill and monotonous bore. A frantic but curiously tired recycling of Ritchie’s overpraised but sporadically amusing debut feature “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), “Snatch” is nothing more than an orgy of macho posturing and cheap film-school tricks masquerading as style, a supposedly comic dance of violence and gore that repulses rather than entertains. It’s the visual equivalent of somebody jabbing you in the ribs with his elbow every few seconds to point out how clever he’s being; you emerge from the experience feeling as battered and bruised as most of the figures you’ve been watching onscreen.

The central event in “Snatch” is the theft of a huge diamond by a quirky crook named Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro), working on behalf of his New York-based boss Avi (Dennis Farina). Passing through London with the gem, he’s seduced by Russian mobster Boris The Blade (Rade Sherbedgia) to put down a bet on a boxing match, but Boris has actually hired inept pawnshop owners Vinny (Robbie Gee) and Sol (Lennie James) to waylay him and steal the stone. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned, and before long Avi has flown to England and engaged Bullet Tooth (Vinnie Jones) to track down Franky and the diamond. Meanwhile, small- time hustlers Turkish (Jason Stratham) and Tommy (Stephen Graham) get into trouble with brutal local boss Brick Top (Alan Ford) when the boxer they’ve promised for one of his illegal bouts is incapacitated in a brawl with Irish gypsy layabout Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt), and to save their skins the boys persuade Mickey to take a dive in the rigged match–with equally dire results, since the guy proves both uncontrollable and invincible. Needless to say, the two plot lines get interlinked along the way, and there are scads of scams, double-crosses, bursts of violence, and arch confrontations before everything works itself out, with lots of broken glass and bloodied bodies littering the landscape before it’s all over.

If handled with some finesse and charm, this sort of roguish caper scenario can go down nicely, however implausible it might be. (“The Sting” remains an obvious example.) But “Snatch” boasts neither. The characters are all so loathsome that one couldn’t care less when they get whacked, usually as abruptly and gruesomely as possible (unfortunately, they have a tendency to come back like insistent vampires when you thought you were rid of them for good), and what passes for conversation is such patently phony gangsterese that eventually you cease to listen. Scenes of raunchy comedy alternate with sequences rank with nonchalant sadism. And the whole unsavory brew is pushed into our faces by a directorial style which mistakes empty pizzazz for cinematic invention.

The cast hardly distinguishes itself in such a slummy environment. Most attention will certainly be on Pitt, who has to be congratulated for taking a role in a comparatively modest project but not for the result. The erstwhile glamor boy puts on seedy airs here, but his performance is no less a failed stunt than was his undeservedly praised turn in Terry Gilliam’s 1995 “Twelve Monkeys.” He delivers all of his lines in an accent so deliberately thick and peculiar that it’s a running gag that nobody, apart from his closest mates, can understand him; but that’s a joke that wears thin fast. (Given the dismal dialogue overall, it might have helped if this affliction had been extended to the other characters too, but, alas, such is not the case.) More notably, Pitt spends so much of his screen time being viciously pummeled by opponents in the ring that, especially when one recalls that his last role–in “Fight Club”–required similar degradation, you can’t help but wonder whether the actor hasn’t developed a decidedly masochistic bent. Del Toro overdoes the accent, too, but since his is basically a cameo role, he’s not quite so annoying; Farina shrieks and froths so incessantly that the only surprising thing about his performance is that he didn’t burst a blood vessel completing it. Ritchie’s choice of local talent isn’t much more successful. Statham, Jones and Flemyng (all holdovers from “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) spit out their lines with the requisite bite, but they don’t show much charisma, while Ford snarls ineffectually as the bloodthirsty villain. None of the lesser players make much of an impression, but one curious fact should be noted: women prove entirely peripheral to the writer-director’s world. The only female characters on view here are Mickey’s long-suffering ma (Sorcha Cusack), a couple of leather-clad dolls (Nicki and Teena Collins), a doltish betting-window clerk, and assorted trophy dates. There’s also a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism throughout. If all this is really reflective of Ritchie’s mindset, his new wife Madonna had better begin mulling a quick annulment.

Viewers who were taken by the grim humor and overwrought visual fireworks of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” may be inclined to greet this second helping of much the same dish with enthusiasm, but I suspect that even most of them will find it overly familiar, a kind of desperate directorial rerun. Those who come to “Snatch” unaware of Ritchie’s earlier picture, perhaps attracted by Pitt’s presence, will probably be appalled. The latter’s the more appropriate response to a movie that’s really nothing more than an empty, pointless, and entirely too nasty exercise in farcical mayhem.

THE FAMILY MAN

When reviewing “Me Myself I” earlier this year–a slight Australian comedy in which Rachel Griffiths played an unhappy single woman magically transported into an alternative life married to her high-school sweetheart–I opined that should the “what if?” piece ever be transformed into a bloated, big-budget Hollywood production, someone like Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan might star. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the stateside replacement would be Nicolas Cage. Yet that’s what “The Family Man,” a sloppily sentimental gender-twisting variant of the earlier picture, offers us. And as tiresome as the earlier film was, the new one is even worse.

Of course, Brett Ratner’s effort isn’t actually a remake; though one might be tempted to think that David Diamond and David Weisman are merely pen names adopted by Aussie scripter-director Pip Karmel to allow her to pick up two paychecks for one screenplay, such is not the case. It appears instead that a single bad idea infected both sides of the Pacific almost simultaneously. In the present instance, what emerges is an unholy imitation of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a veritable glacier of treacle, oozing inexorably on for two hours, gradually swallowing the actors, the screen, and the audience as well. It’s like “The Blob,” except that it’s composed of saccharine.

In this telling, Jack Campbell (Cage) is a smug, aggressive Wall Street high-roller putting the finishing touches to a huge merger deal. After being accosted by a street punk called Cash (Don Cheadle), who, after threatening him, suggests that he question his values, Jack goes to sleep in his plush apartment, only to awaken to a totally different life as a tire salesman wed to Kate (Tea Leoni), the college sweetie he’d left thirteen years earlier by flying off to a European internship. He’s also got two utterly adorable kids, Annie (Makenzie Vega), a preternaturally wise urchin with a supposedly charming lisp, and baby Josh (played by twins Jake and Ryan Milkovich); you’d have to be way too optimistic to believe that we don’t have to suffer through the obligatory scene in which fish-out-of-water Jack has to change Josh’s diaper, suffering from the odor and the predictable yellow spray in the process. Anyway, Jack is understandably overwhelmed by his changed circumstances, but he tries to cope, even going so far as to worm his way back into his former big-bucks investment firm. Ultimately Cash (who’s some sort of grubby Clarence, of course) returns our hero to his true life, but by then Jack’s become entranced with Kate again, and searches her out. Will they be able to get together after so many years? Can Jack’s change of heart be extended to her?

In a fantasy like this, of course, one can’t expect any surprises, and “The Family Man” follows the obvious pattern. Not an instant in it seems even vaguely real; all is the most cloying sort of manipulation. But the most meretricious part of the thing is that although the picture wants to espouse an anti-materialist message–Jack learns that all his wealth is meaningless without the woman he loves (since the kids are just part of his alternate life, it would appear, they don’t really count)–when he approaches the older Kate at the end of the picture it’s with his bankroll (and hers, since she too has changed) completely intact. The salt-of-the-earth family life we’ve watched them share for nearly two hours turns out to have been a complete fraud, for even if they do link up, they’ll probably look for an even bigger Park Avenue pad. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

Actors can’t really be expected to do much with this kind of fluff, but Cage, overemoting in all the guises he has to adopt here (smirking businessman, harried hubby, remorseful as Scrooge come the close)is embarrassingly over-the-top. (It almost makes you nostalgic for one of his Jerry Bruckheimer action flicks: he’s terrible in those too, but generally less overwrought.) Tea Leoni is easy to look at as his long-lost love, and she certainly shows more verve than she did in “Deep Impact,” but that’s not saying much The charismatic Cheadle has nothing to work with as Cash, and Jeremy Piven is his usual irritating self as Jack’s best buddy in his fantasy married state. Saul Rubinek does his nervous schtick playing Wall Street Jack’s put-upon subordinate, and Josef Sommer lends his customary air of nasty elegance to the firm’s owner. But, once again, their material is feeble.

To be fair, “The Family Man” looks good. All the technical credits are fine, from Dante Spinotti’s crisp cinematography to Kristi Zea’s production design. (An exception is the usually reliable Danny Elfman’s score, which sounds like rejected leftovers from his music for “Edward Scissorhands.”) And to his credit Ratner keeps things in frame and moving along well enough, though he obviously has no gift for understatement. But his picture is just imitation CapraCorn without any of the earlier helmer’s patented canniness. It’s a load of sentimental slush not even Universal’s other big Christmas star, the reformed Grinch, could love.