RocknRolla: Facing the perils of disorganized crime

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 8, 2008 | Publication: National Post | Author: Jay Stone
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Film review: RocknRolla (2.5 stars)

Guy Ritchie has made another movie, and you know what that means.

It's entitled RocknRolla, but you could call it Lock Stock and Two More Smoking Barrels in honour of its kaleidoscope of Cockney gangsters, Gothic violence (the bad guy ties his victims to chairs and dips them into vats of flesh-eating crayfish), convoluted plots, flashbacks and visual gimcrackery. Ritchie -- who made a couple of mobster movies, took time off to strand Madonna on a desert island in Swept Away, and then returned for a lesser version of the mobster movie with Revolver -- is back in something close to form here.

And you know what that means: There are subtitles in big block letters written in boxes on the side of the screen. There are large Russian hoods with machetes. There are large English hoods who talk like refugees from a Quentin Tarantino project ("It's tasty and exotic," says the villain, trying

his first lychee.) There's a love story that occupies all of a three-second montage. Rockn-Rolla has just about everything; indeed, it has most of it twice.

There is a measure of fun to be had in this kind of comic-book violence, even though it is another of Ritchie's trademarks that there is too much of it. The opening sequence, a slapdash series of shots of people who are making a lot of money in London real estate, had me lost immediately. After that, it was just a matter of hanging on for dear life.

The various plots tell us about evil Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, practically licking his chops at the chance to play a villain), who runs the London criminal scene, and, apparently, its real estate dealings as well. A Russian gangster named Uri (Karel Roden) gives Lenny 7-million to arrange a deal, but the money is stolen with the help of Lenny's crooked accountant (Thandie Newton).

Newton seems lost in this company -- hers is a fragile beauty -- but more like it are the actual thieves, who are members of the Wild Bunch: One Two (Gerard Butler, the 300 actor showing a disreputable charm), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), who turns out to be gay, but since he's as murderous as the next guy, everyone is fine with it in their ironic, violent way. "If I could be half the man that Bob is at the price of being a poof, I'd think about it," allows Mumbles. He adds, "Not too long."

As fans of Ritchie's previous excursions into the florid London underground will know, this ain't the half of it. Most of RocknRolla revolves around a "lucky painting" that Uri has given to Lenny as a gesture of good faith. Unfortunately, it's stolen right off Lenny's wall -- he literally falls off his chair when he learns of the theft -- by Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell, stealing scenes as well), Lenny's ne'er-do-well stepson who is also a rock star. Lenny and Johnny have a rocky past ("I never did like you and neither did your real dad"), and now Johnny is presumed dead, but he's very much alive and beating up bouncers at bars with what looks like a sharpened pencil: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Erasers, perhaps.

All of this surreal action tumbles across a series of London back alleys, abandoned warehouses and other spots where things can get gritty. There's a funny chase when the Wild Bunch robs two Russian couriers of their millions and then run for their lives as the Russians --hit by a truck, beaten with sporting goods equipment, thrown from various vehicles --just keep coming.

It's typical of the devil-may-care tone of something that looks like it's been assembled from the parts of Guy Ritchie movies: Not everything fits (what are Jeremy Piven and Ludacris supposed to be doing?), but it happens quickly and with rococo style. The movie's presumed commentary on the London real estate market -- that it's a magnet for corruption -- is lost in the shuffle. Almost everything is. That's because RocknRolla is all shuffle: Guy Ritchie has made another movie.