It’s been 16 years since Guy Ritchie’s London crime story, “Snatch,” first debuted in the U.S., and, while the black comedy pulled in a decent sum, its primary accomplishment was of a cult fandom (and earning Guy Ritchie a shot at the big time). With that in mind, I don’t feel too bad for only remembering a few key moments from a film built on a sharp wit and distinct characters:
Alan Ford’s thick, creepy glasses; Dennis Farina’s crass American foil to all those classy Brits; Jason Statham proving he can do more than just beat the hell out of his co-stars; the tragic fate of Benicio del Toro’s Franky Four Fingers; and, of course, the sole iconic element of Ritchie’s first major studio film (aside from ultra slo-mo fight scenes): Brad Pitt’s gibberish-spouting gypsy boxer with a devastating right hook, Mickey O’Neil.
To Crackle’s credit, the online network’s new original series of the same name doesn’t attempt to recreate these moments or the characters filling them. Instead, “Snatch” (the TV show) builds on the idea of small-time crooks making big-time moves, whether they’re ready for the repercussions or not. The first hour uses its time wisely by explaining why Albert Hill (Luke Pasqualino) decides to jump up a few rungs on the criminal ladder, and — aside from one noticeably misguided character — the series gets off to a smooth, if formulaic, start.
Meet Albert, the son of a thief (Dougray Scott) who’s been locked up since he was a young boy. Albert is trying to do things the right way: supporting his family’s flower business and managing a fighter, Billy “Fuckin'” Ayers (Lucien Laviscount) on the side. But Albert made a mistake by taking a loan out from the wrong people, and now they’re coming to collect. With the help of his friend and fellow hustler Charlie (Rupert Grint), the two pull together enough money to put a big bet down on Billy’s upcoming fight.
Unlike many other underground boxing matches where desperate gamblers hatch a plan to score big, Albert and Charlie are betting on Billy to win. Sure, Albert’s incarcerated dad, Vic, has money on a loss, but they’re not going to let his criminal enterprise influence their big chance to get out of debt. It’s a small change, but rooting for Billy to win instead of hoping he takes a fall does provide a bit more interest in the well-choreographed fight scene. (And the series wisely resists copying the hilarious twist unleashed in the film, though that scene proved far more memorable than this one.)
Similarly, the crew’s hopeful attitude in a world of two-timing crooks makes them stand out just a tad. More importantly, it’s justified in the premise without being overly preachy. Lily (Juliet Aubrey), Albert’s mom, is still married to her father. Together, they represent the beat down lower class who’ve never been able to get ahead by doing the right thing. Vic is in prison after committing his life to conning, and Lily is on the outside, living off bad loans taken out by her son for their failing flower shop. She has no illusions about her family, and while she’s not exactly pushing Albert into a life of crime, she’s not ashamed of her husband either. She’s been beaten down by life, and her attitude reflects her surroundings.
Far less explicable is the presence of Sonny Castillo, a Cuban club owner played by Ed Westwick who’s tangentially connected to the story because he’s dating Lotti (Phoebe Dynevor), an ambitious operator looking to get paid — by anyone who can. Castillo also shares a few mob connections that strengthen his role in the story, but there’s a lot going on with this guy that just doesn’t sit right with the rest of the show.
Given Sonny’s lavish lifestyle and prick-ish nature, I can see why the creators would want the man who played Chuck Bass on “Gossip Girl” to enliven Sonny with an appealing moxie. But why did the character need to be Cuban? Westwick has proven he can act in an American dialect just fine, and the UK-born thespian would be right at home with his British cast-mates if not for sporting the peculiar accent of a Spaniard. Its inconsistency and irregularity makes Sonny unappealingly odd instead of authentically menacing — or even cartoonishly evil — and deadens most of Westwick’s inherent charms.
Sonny represents one of a few efforts to replicate the eccentricities of the original film, and other quirks prove more appealing. Still, after two hours, “Snatch” lacks the noteworthy moments and characters that made the movie worth remembering. It adeptly moves along, creating a rhythm easy to fall into, but far from addictive. Time may turn this into a more moving adventure, but it’s a bit too uninspired to leave a mark a la Mickey’s right hook.
“Snatch” is now streaming its full first season on Crackle.