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Comic scum

Ritchie mines humor from crooks and lowlifes

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Director Guy Ritchie's seedy British crime caper Snatch (opening Jan. 19) is an ostensibly outrageous "comedy" in the dubious tradition of such violent laugh-riots as Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting -- the latest in a growing genre of movies made by show-offs whose kinetic visual styles and non-linear narrative approaches effectively sensationalize the activities of a lot of reprehensible lowlifes. Most people would cross the street to avoid the assorted gypsies, tramps and thieves on view in Ritchie's new film, which instead asks audiences to embrace its characters as eccentric and endearing, hip and hilarious.

"Well, it is a comedy, after all," Ritchie maintains during an interview last weekend. Still, ask him exactly what's so comedic about it, and he admits, "I'm not quite sure what the definitive answer to that is. I mean, there's no question that, like so many things in life, there's an unfortunate irony in the fact that a lot of criminals are funny guys. A lot of them aren't, but I'm not so interested in those ones. I think Joe Q. Public sees them as funny because they lead such an extreme existence, although to them it's just a day in, day out kind of thing. If you're not in or of that world, then it's completely unacceptable, of course, but that's just human nature, and there's a certain humor within that, too."

Whatever "unintentional" thematic similarities his sophomore effort happens to share with those other aforementioned movies, Snatch is decidedly derivative of at least one film -- Ritchie's debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998). In an attempt to avoid being pigeonholed so early in their careers, some directors might want to hang an artistic 180 of some sort between their first and second projects. Ritchie, on the other hand, chose to remain on the mean streets (and back alleys) of London.

"My style is something that will evolve over time. I'm sure as I go on, it will change into something different and better, hopefully, but you have to start somewhere," the 32-year-old director offers with a shrug. "I specifically wanted to make a film that was in the same vein as the last one, partly because I had such a proliferation of ideas while I was making the first one that I would've felt like I was robbing the audience had I not gone on to make a second movie about these characters and subcultures."

You may love his work or loathe it, but there's definitely something to be said for staying true to oneself. Ritchie could've taken the money and run to Hollywood after the moderate art-house success of Two Smoking Barrels, but he opted to resist the temptation "because I think it's very important for a filmmaker to use his second project as a way of building his own confidence and establishing his own identity," as he puts it.

After a pause, Ritchie elaborates, "My perception of the Hollywood system is that it can emasculate you if you're not careful. I mean, unless you've allowed your confidence to evolve to a certain level, the minute your vision becomes controlled or dissipated by a studio, that can be the death of you creatively. I got some beguiling offers, but I thought it would be more sensible to stick to my own guns, as it were, so that I can tread the minefields of Hollywood more judiciously in the future."

By casting familiar American stars like Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro in the ensemble of Snatch -- which also includes a number of the same little-known British non-actors he used in his first film -- Ritchie says he hopes to "bridge the gap a little" between his own indie sensibilities and the more commercial considerations of a mainstream Hollywood movie.

"It's not strictly true, because The Full Monty proved to be very popular over here, but I think it might be too much to ask American moviegoers en masse to go see a film that's completely British," he explains. "Snatch is much more of a young person's film [than The Full Monty], and I don't think it's ever happened before, successfully releasing an English film to a younger audience in the States. Having a couple of recognizable stars in the cast helps sweeten the pill somewhat."

What next? A more straightforward or "linear" Guy Ritchie movie? He laughs. "I hope not. I'm not particularly interested in linear narratives. If there are elements in your story that warrant it, that's fine, but on the whole this is a medium with a great deal of latitude, in terms of playing around with the camera and juggling things up a bit," Ritchie replies.

"I think it's important for filmmakers to capitalize on that. I mean, sometimes a simple, linear story can be great, but I'm at a stage now where I'm still excited about all the possibilities of the format I've been presented, you know? I just want to keep exploring and exploiting all the tools at my fingertips." u

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