Guns N' Poses: Thugs, Drugs and Style in Shady London

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 8, 2008 | Publication: The New York Times | Author: Manohla Dargis
Publication/Article Link:http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/movies/08rock.html

Guy Ritchie reshuffles a worn-out deck in “RocknRolla,” a return to the shady stylings that characterized his earlier flicks “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” The on-screen names have changed, and the edited rhythms have been somewhat slowed, but more or less everything else follows formula: pump up the volume, tilt the camera, flex the muscle, strut the stuff, bang bang, blah blah.

There are the usual villains with funny names — a nice-and-easy Gerard Butler plays One Two, while the underdeployed Idris Elba plays his partner in London crime, Mumbles — committing the usual villainy while spouting the usual argot. There’s the big, bad boss, Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a thug in bespoke pinstripes who comes with an iron fist in a velvet glove called Archy (Mark Strong). There are drugs and a rock ’n’ roll druggie, Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell). There’s the requisite femme fatale in stilettos, Stella (Thandie Newton), and the de rigueur scary, scarily rich Russian, Uri (Karel Roden). There are double-crosses and right hooks and ha-ha scenes of grim torture that come with throbbing musical accompaniment.

It isn’t all bad — many of the lads look lovely, and there’s a chase sequence that nicely devolves into an impressionistic blur of herky-jerky faces — but there isn’t much to chew on or mull over. The violence is idiotic and brutal (the story is just idiotic), but it’s also so noncommittal that it doesn’t offend. Like the filmmaking itself, the violence has no passion, no oomph, no sense of real or even feigned purpose. For Mr. Ritchie, a man who clearly appreciates fine tailoring (and kudos to the costume designer, Suzie Harman), a fist in the mouth or a bullet in the head is just a stylistic flourish, some flash to tart up the genre clichés he never seems to have bought in the first place.

But that’s the thing about genre clichés: you need to believe in them before you can twist, upend or abandon them. To judge from his crime flicks, Mr. Ritchie seems to have gravitated to the underworld primarily because of some misbegotten and vague sense of cool. The history of real and imaginary British crime certainly gives him fodder, including the real East End criminals the Kray twins (who were put out of nasty business in 1968, the year Mr. Ritchie was born) and the nattily dressed, lethally armed Michael Caine in Mike Hodges’s vicious “Get Carter” (1971). American criminals have the bigger guns, but the Brits lock and load like dandies, a fact that, more than any other, seems to have shaped Mr. Ritchie’s oeuvre.

“RocknRolla” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bloody gun violence and crustacean-involved torture.

ROCKNROLLA

Opens on Wednesday in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.