Like much quintessentially British fare, director Guy Ritchie's first feature, 1998's Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, became a phenomenon in Great Britain and the rest of Europe, only to be received in America with all the enthusiasm of a Happy Mondays reunion tour. Essentially an extended homage to Barrels, Ritchie's Snatch sticks to the formula of his testosterone-heavy breakthrough while adding a handful of suitably hardboiled American faces (Brad Pitt, Dennis Farina, Benicio Del Toro), presumably to make it more palatable to stateside audiences. Like Barrels, Snatch is populated by a small nation's worth of quirky, colorfully named lowlifes, and it follows a series of interlocking plots revolving around a mad scramble for a valuable item, this time a stolen 86-karat diamond. Ritchie's debut owed a great deal to Quentin Tarantino, but like Tarantino—and unlike his many imitators—it synthesized smart influences into an entertaining, distinctive whole, rather than simply stealing the most obvious stylistic and narrative tricks of a single filmmaker. Snatch, in contrast, feels like unintentional self-parody, the work of a precocious filmmaker in love with his own cinematic voice. In Snatch, nearly everything that made Barrels so entertaining backfires. Ritchie's stylized tough-guy banter, so briskly funny and irreverent before, here feels mannered and lifeless, while his flair for carefully orchestrated stylistic overkill feels grating, arbitrary, and more than a little desperate. If Barrels smartly gleaned a few lessons from Tarantino, Snatch has the overbearing eagerness to please of a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster; it piles the climaxes, quirks, and one-liners so deep that they become oppressive. Barrels established Ritchie as a director of considerable promise, but Snatch proves that even gifted filmmakers are subject to the law of diminishing returns.
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