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Snatch - Advance Preview: "How not to do a remake"

Credit: Matt Squire/Crackle

The movie “Snatch” blends a multitude of things that make it great: fantastic visual filmmaking from director Guy Ritchie; smart storytelling with an intelligent twist; strong performances from Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, and Alan Ford, among others; memorable, wonderful dialogue; humour; and terrific music choices.

The ten-episode TV series Snatch, all of which debuts on Crackle on Thursday, March 16th, has none of these things.

It says a lot about this particular remake that the aspect most recognisable to fans of the movie is the recurrence of eccentric choices by director Nick Renton akin to those of Ritchie. Shots that zoom onto a particular subject are sped up, others are slowed down. There are close-ups that most may perceive as too close but would lose their effectiveness to be further away. Low-angle shots are prominent. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a production that Ritchie might have made, even if its lack of authenticity is abundantly obvious.

However, calling this series Snatch is like taking a bar of chocolate, putting into the empty wrapper of a cereal bar, and calling it a cereal bar. It is ludicrous. Granted, there are elements that vaguely resemble the movie - the second hour features some diamonds, there’s a boxer (whom Crackle describe as a gypsy, but he isn’t), there’s a crime lord, and there are Jewish people who quite clearly aren’t Jewish - but that’s all they do, and what the series creates itself is lifeless. In fairness, Crackle indicated that the series is only loosely based on the movie - and it makes sense, since taking the characters or plots directly and making a television version would be crazy.

But with no Turkish, no Mickey, no Brick Top, no Boris the Blade, etc. - how can it be “Snatch”?

That criticism aside, the biggest problem this series has is that it simply isn’t good - and even that may be too high a compliment. Watching it is not only a chore but actively anger-inducing, its attempts to form a cohesive, intelligent story falling horribly flat. It is juvenile in its efforts to be mature. It is, without doubt, awful.

The show focuses on Albert Hill (Luke Pasqualino), a Cockney twentysomething whose father, Vic (Dougray Scott), was a gangster and has served the last fifteen years in prison. Albert is determined not to turn out like his dad, instead making money through managing boxer and close friend Billy Ayers (Lucien Laviscount), and through attempting to sell moonshine with Charlie Cavendish-Scott (Rupert Grint), a posh, trust fund son who denies the existence of a trust fund and refuses any of his parents’ riches. The trio ends up crossing paths with Cuban local crime lord Sonny Castillo (Ed Westwick) and his girlfriend, Lotti Mott (Phoebe Dyvenor), as well as fence Saul Gold (Henry Goodman).

Snatch is comparable to Mad Dogs - either version - in that it is mostly a seemingly never-ending slew of problematic events that cause the main characters’ lives to become more hellish and their potential lifespans shorter at every turn. Albert’s struggles are highlighted within five minutes of the first hour, and by the end of the second (all that Crackle sent to critics), enough has happened to him and his friends to wonder exactly how any of them will avoid imprisonment, or even remain alive.

At least, that’s what series creator Alex De Rakoff is aiming for, but it fails spectacularly in part because the writing of the story is weak, but mostly because the characters are fundamentally unlikable. There’s a certain appeal to Albert, whose hardships may not be especially relatable but are portrayed in a manner that makes it difficult not to feel sorry for him, even if his preoccupation with avoiding becoming like his father may, in fact, be what leads him to become like his father. Pasqualino is a solid lead, but far from anything special. Charlie and Billy, on the other hand, are nauseatingly bad characters; their potential complexity is lost through a lack of subtlety. Charlie’s main role, at times, seems to be the comic relief, but any brief laughter is firmly at his brainlessness than it is with him - and he may actually be less abysmal if the series embraced laughing at him. One particular sequence in the second hour where he takes MDMA is intended to be funny but is instead infuriatingly dumb and enough to provoke contemplation of whether good television has died without being noticed. It doesn’t help that Grint is relentlessly annoying, his over-confident grin and disastrously out-of-place high-class accent contributing to a performance that is infinitely more appealing when it isn’t on the screen.

Billy’s character is made up of his boxing, his attempts to be cutely aggressive (*), and his attempts to be flirtatious. It’s only his boxing that works, but that doesn’t even play a factor in the second episode, and may only be character background that serves a purpose in the premiere and is then ignored. Laviscount is only slightly more grating than Grint, his arrogance a complete turn-off given the character’s fatal design flaws.

(*) One of his first lines, delivered as he enters the ring to train, is: “So which one of you girl scouts is game for a little cuddle, then?” It’s as bad in delivery as it appears in print.

Still, Albert’s two friends have more character traits than Castillo, a walking stereotype whose only real characteristics are being callous to his girlfriend and asserting that not all Cubans are gangsters. Westwick’s attempts to make the character intimidating come across simply as needlessly outlandish - like snorting cocaine immediately after performing a ritual - while his thousand yard stare is about as dull to watch as he makes it look like it was to act. Vic is probably the strongest character outside of Albert, but even he is tiringly one-dimensional.

Perhaps the only compliment really worth paying to Snatch is that, by the end of hour two, there’s a sense of narrative direction not previously found, and what transpires in the aftermath of the chaos could make for compelling television - though that’s a huge hypothetical, given what comes before it.

But there’s a line in “Snatch” where, in response to a comment about how England has sandy beaches, Cousin Avi says: “So? Who the fuck wants to see ‘em?”

It’s a question that should be asked of this series’ general existence, primarily, but can be applied to how it progresses in two hours. Even if it does pull itself together, who wants to see it? And, more importantly, who will stick around that long to see it?

The ten-episode first season of Snatch arrives on Crackle on Thursday, March 16th.

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