Though it doesn't quite hold the record in this category (Anchor Bay and its Dawn of the Dead/Army of Darkness fixation is more than likely numero uno), Guy Ritchie's incredibly entertaining Snatch has got to be some sort of double dip champion. It's been released in a standard version, a two-disc special edition and under the notoriously underwhelming Superbit title. Like the annual migration of birds to the warmer climes come winter, it seems like every year brings another DVD variation of this crackerjack crime comedy. This time around, an "exclusive" poker set presentation is being used. It's still the same package as the old two disc SE, but now you can get some cards, a dealer's chip, and a collector's 'scrapbook' of film trivia. If all that floats your 'must buy' boat, then by all means pick up this obvious marketing ploy. If not, then there's really no reason to pony up the pennies and buy this unnecessary reconfiguration.
In the meantime, a diamond heist has gone haywire. Franky Four Fingers has toddled off to England to find a buyer, but back home in Antwerp, his partners are plotting a double cross. They get local Russian reprobate Boris the Blade to divert the stone, and he hires pawnshop owners Sol and Vincent to grab the gem. Things go horribly wrong when the pair attempts to rob a bookie - a gambling den that just so happens to be owned by Brick Top. When he discovers the jewel's existence, he too wants it for his very own.
Then there's American merchant "Cousin Avi" Denovitz. His British relative was supposed to front the 86 carat beauty, and he's determined to get it back. He hires Bullet Tooth Tony to track the gem. Naturally, all roads lead to Sol and Vinnie, and by indirect coincidence, Turkish and Tommy. It all ends up in bullets, bloodshed and boxing as cutthroat criminals vie for the biggest payday of their larcenous lives.
Sadly, writer/director Guy Ritchie has more or less fallen off the star map over the last few years, reduced to a roll as madam Madonna's personal sperm provider and premier escort. Being the diva's baby daddy has resulted in a complete and utter fiasco (the caustic collaboration on the remake of Lina Wertmüller's brilliant Swept Away) along with a much maligned 'return to form' with this year's reviled Revolver. Looking back at Snatch, it really becomes a pitiable passage of unhappy events. Here is someone who seemed so certain of himself, so completely in tune with the world he was working in and the personalities he was plying that, though it looked like he was milking the mob genre for all it was worth (Ritchie's previous effort, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, was also a fan favorite) this combination of boxing and burglary truly transcended its type. Indeed, instead of acting like another QT wannabe, Snatch suggested the Coen Brothers, and their sacred screwball efforts like Raising Arizona mixed with the conniving crime complication of Miller's Crossing.
Naturally, it is all filtered through a unique UK jive that is as addictive as Walker's Nonsuch Toffee. What Ritchie has that many American auteurs would kill for is a truly unusual take on the concept of the underworld. Here, his mob bosses are freakish and frightening, not the suave Rat Pack personas of the US Mafioso. Brick Top, brilliantly played by Alan Ford, is so menacing, so downright evil, that you can barely look at him when he walks into the room. Words come out of his mouth in a garbled hush, mouth pulled back in a teeth-baring grimace. As a heavy, he's far more frightening than any zoot suited goombah cruising the Jersey shore. Similarly, the sly fox gypsies with their con man mannerisms make for equally effective villains. Not even the stunning star power of Brad Pitt (he plays the tattooed and indecipherable boxer Mickey) can remove the residue of underhanded cravenness from the characters. Indeed, the acting is uniformly excellent in Snatch, something that many indie caper wannabes can't claim. While it's true that Benecio Del Toro is more or less wasted in a throwaway near cameo (he does get a nice monologue about the Virgin Mary) and Dennis Farina never met scenery he couldn't chew, this is still a stellar effort all around.
So why isn't Snatch on par with some of the other pretenders to the crime genre throne. Well, for one thing, Ritchie's direction is hopelessly obvious. He's spinning the lens and adding so many post-production elements that for everyone that works effortlessly (Pitt's pre-notch out slow motion fall to the canvas is classic) there is an overdone montage (Del Toro's penchant for gambling, Farina's arrivals and departures from England) that screams style over substance. Part of the problem may also be finding individuals to root for. Turkish and Tommy are all right blokes, but neither is set up in either hero or anti-hero mode. The rest of this mean motley crew is so colored by corruption and vice that you can't feel completely comfortable pulling for their eventual triumph. Together with a dialect that's barely decipherable (sometimes on purpose as in the case of Pitt's perversely perplexing gypsy) and a convenience of coincidence that renders the action a little too 'planned', Snatch does have its flaws. But the good definitely far outweighs the bad in what is a truly energetic entertainment experience. It may not always make sense, and seems way too pat at times, but this is still a very good movie. Whether it needed four different DVD versions is another matter all together.
As to the Super-sized tech specs, the film still looks a little fuzzy and soft in sections, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image lacking significant crispness and detail. It does render the film almost fanciful, giving even the most violent scenes a dream-like quality, but to this viewer, that doesn't seem quite what Ritchie had in mind. Colors are muted and then vibrant, correct and then crocked, and overall, the transfer seems stuck somewhere between amateurish and amazing. Without a non-Superbit to compare it to, it has to be said that the specialized version of Snatch is barely passable, picture wise.
And then there is the poker kit. Sadly, it is not a nudie deck like the one used by Tommy and Turkish during one scene (the cover art makes up the back design), but the cards here are quite novel. Instead of Aces, Spades, Diamonds and Hearts, we have Guns, Dogs, Boxing Gloves and Gems. The Jack is Mickey (Pitt), the Queen is Franky Four Fingers (Del Toro) and the King is Brick Top himself. The dealer's chip is a thick yellow plastic disc with the film's logo on each side, and the scrapbook is the insert equivalent of production notes, biographies and filmographies (with lots of flash pictures along for the ride). Though the connection to poker is problematic (it's really only hinted at in the film, if it's mentioned at all), the enclosed professional deck is decent and the bright packaging is impressive. If it wasn't for the damned disc mix-up (which, again, may be exclusive to this critic's copy), this would be a nice companion presentation to the Superbit version of the film. As it stands, this entire double dip mess remains confusing, and contrary to how a manufacturer should treat the purchasing public.