Film Reviews

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: September 7, 2008 | Publication: Scotland on Sunday | Author: Siobhan Synnot
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IF TELEVISION'S Top Gear was to make a movie, it would probably be something like RocknRolla, and I don't think this observation would pain Guy Ritchie, oADVERTISEMENTr indeed Top Gear. Both parties adore geezers, over-designed gewgaws and tuff-talking voiceovers; and both go all fidgety around anything that seems a bit gay.

After the kicking administered to both Revolver and Swept Away, Ritchie has opted for a return to his "alright lads" criminal ways in a film with a massive cast of characters, each of whom are allowed one distinctive feature. There's Tom Wilkinson's Lenny, a balding old guard London kingpin, who is owed a serious amount of money by hunky One Two (Gerard Butler), and is negotiating a major deal with a football-club-owning billionaire (Karel Roden). He's called Obomavich by the way, and I'm afraid the satire doesn't get any more subtle junkie pop star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), for instance, is first seen wearing a jaunty hat, a bit like junkie pop star Pete Doherty.

This is Ritchie hoping that we may confuse this clutter for cleverness. Quid is managed by a couple of American club owners (Jeremy Piven and rapper Ludacris), who add nothing to the story except bloat, while One Two has a couple of sidekicks that include Tom Hardy, the source of the gay subplot that makes his mates go "eeew".

I'd like to put in an honourable mention for Mark Strong as Lenny's solid right hand man, but I think we're all getting a bit tired of names now, so let's wrap this up with Thandie Newton, who brings her extraordinary beauty to the most thankless part in a Ritchie movie; a woman. As a hard-boiled crooked accountant who uses Butler's dumber small-time crook to rob her client, she's up to her neck in cheekbones and up to her cheekbones in deception. Newton brings the part some attitude, but not the scintillating one-liners needed to back up this identity. "I like your shoes," calls out One Two at the end of another successful meeting. "By next week you'll be able to buy a pair of your own," she retorts. They're like a remedial school Bogart and Bacall.

RocknRolla is filmed with an over-caffeinated flash that is close to adrenalised camp, with everything art-directed to the point of insanity. If there's a secret meeting to be had, it'll be in a big echoey art space, where people three blocks away can hear your secret plan. And if you have a druggie rocker who lives in a twilight world, you can bet he'll hole up in a place where shafts of light will locate the impressively ripped torso that every dissolute junkie can build up despite the distinct absence of a gym card.

Some day I really do hope that someone will let Guy Ritchie make Bond movies or a new Ocean's picture, so that we can properly enjoy his punchy inventiveness without fretting that we're watching an big, daft adult cartoon. Ritchie's exchanges are never clever enough, and energy alone can't drive a film when it's loaded down with too many characters and locations.

The film's best work is in the editing room, where Ritchie can turn his stiff genre riffs into kinetic quips. Otherwise, it's all a bit of a derivative Mock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, dutifully covering the same territory of guns and chicks in a propulsive though morally suspect gangster world. It doesn't stop the film being fun, but it does underline that Ritchie is a stylist rather than a thinker. His grasp of London's property scene seems especially shonky, although it may be just Ritchie's bad luck that a film predicated on spiralling development profits has been released just as house prices are nose-diving. I'm also unconvinced by Lenny's chosen method of disposing of unwanted obstacles; namely, feeding them to the crayfish. Wisely, we're never shown these crayfish in action. I may be wrong, but I'm thinking erosion is probably a quicker ending than death by crayfish.