Lock, Stock...: The Complete Series Review
In the intervening years since the release of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1997, the British gangster film has flourished into a fully-fledged sub-genre. Whilst there have been the occasional gems (Sexy Beast, Gangster No. 1), the public has generally been inflicted with some of the worst examples of recent British cinema. Whilst there are too many to list here, one shudders to think of the poor soul who settles down to a double-bill of Fast Food and Rancid Aluminium. Amongst this rather poor litter we discover the Lock, Stock... television series. So does it rank alongside the cream, or sink to the bottom of this already over-populated pile?
Surprisingly, the series remains remarkably faithful to its source: witness the overly stylised camera-work and the characters with ridiculous monikers (pick of the bunch here being a heavy named Mars Bar for some unexplained reason), as well as the racial stereotyping, prominent homophobia and, of course, a plethora of four-letter words.
Plot-wise each episode is virtually interchangeable: our four protagonists indulge in various get-rich-quick schemes within a landscape populated by a multitude of dodgy geezers until everything gets back to square one courtesy of ever more ridiculous coincidences.
The characters also suffer a similar fate. With the exception of Shaun Parkes (following up a standout performance in Human Traffic) none of the other leads offers any sort of individuality, played as they are by identikit twentysomethings with male model good looks. The villains meanwhile are reduced to either a comic accent, a penchant for swearing profusely or are portrayed by minor television personalities (Hywel Bennett, Bradley Walsh) playing against there more well-known personas. On occasion the three may be combined, though this is a rare sight.
So we’re stuck with by-numbers plotting and by-numbers characters in seven re-runs of the Lock, Stock movie, and yet this series still provides a certain charm. As many critics pointed out at the time, the reason for the feature film's success was probably down to the fact that it resembled a modern day Ealing comedy, albeit one with an 18 certificate. Strip down, say, The Ladykillers or The Lavender Hill Mob and you’re left with capers gone wrong and comic mishaps, exactly the same basic elements that form Guy Richie’s film. Due, one presumes, to his involvement in this spin-off (he served as producer and wrote the feature length pilot episode), Lock, Stock... also shows evidence of this and, despite its apparent flaws, serves to make it watchable in the very least.
Picture and Sound
Being made for television, expectations shouldn’t be too high for the audio/visual aspects. Presented in anamorphic 16:9 ratio with two-channel stereo sound, as were the original Channel 4 broadcasts, the disc do offer a noticeable difference, though problems still arise. The picture, whilst sharp, suffers in scenes of a darker hue owing to a general lack of depth. The audio on the other hand struggles to find a balance between on-screen dialogue, the occasional voice-over narrative and the seemingly continuous soundtrack in the background. A 5.1 mix would of course have found better space for these, so it’s unfortunate that Universal hasn’t seen fit to offer the choice.
The extras are limited to a brief featurette made on the final day of shooting and a music video of Ocean Colour Scene’s theme tune. The first, presented by lad’s mag favourite Tania Strecker, seems more a demonstration of her exceedingly poor interview technique than a provider of interesting information. The brief interviews with the principle cast members see them half-heartedly attempt to explain their characters, seemingly as aware as the viewer that there is very little to distinguish them apart. It also worth noting that Granada TV’s Minder series gets a mention, a mistake surely as this only serves as a reminder that this type of television has be done much better - and funnier - in the past.
Both the featurette and promo are presented in anamorphic 16:9, though sadly no subtitle tracks exist - their presence also being non-evident on each of the seven episodes.
Despite myself, and most likely because it refuses to take itself too seriously, I still found Lock, Stock... an enjoyable experience. Each episode is extremely well paced, meaning that many of its weaknesses (as said the racism and homophobia are at times shockingly overt) pass by too rapidly to get noticed. Moreover, if one torture gag proves a too thin, there is bound to be another one crop up in no time to try that little bit harder.
I also get the impression that this series is going to look extremely dated in a few years time, although it could also be argued that it would make the perfect time capsule for late-nineties lad culture.