Ritchie rocks more of the same in 'Rocknrolla'

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 30, 2008 | Publication: The Evanston Review | Author: Bruce Ingram
Publication/Article Link:http://www.pioneerlocal.com/evanston/entertainment/1248883,pp-Rocknrolla-103008-s2.article

If you've seen writer/director Guy Ritchie's "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," there's really no reason to check out "Rocknrolla," unless you're in the mood for more of the same -- only less so.

After unsuccessfully taking his ultra-stylized, ultra-violent, incongruously humorous gangster movie formula more seriously with last year's "Revolver," Ritchie returns his emphasis to entertainment this time around.

And he delivers, intermittently, though the freshness and excitement are long gone.

What's it all about? Hard to say, really. There's a lot going on in "Rocknrolla," but it doesn't add up to much more than a bunch of colorful lowlifes and tough guys, ranging from hustling junkies to 800-pound-gorilla mob bosses, trying to make an honest criminal living by stealing from each other. You've got an old-school London crime lord named Lenny (Tom Wilkinson, almost unrecognizable), who unwisely accepts the loan of a lucky painting from a new-bred Russian gangster czar and shakes up the underworld when someone walks off with it. You've got a couple of genial armed robbers named One Two and Mumbles (Gerard Butler of "300" and Idris Elba of HBO's "The Wire") heisting shipments of money from the Russian billionaire after being tipped off by his sexy accountant (Thandie Newton). You've got Lenny's junkie rock-star stepson (Toby Kebbell) playing dead to boost record sales and creating as much trouble as possible for his old stepdad. And you've got lots of assorted supporting characters stepping in to keep things lively as needed -- such as a couple of unkillable and generally freaky Russian hit men who take the theft of their boss's money very personally.

The general idea is to keep all these characters chasing after each other, all the while commenting wryly on life in general, with enough flash camera work and tricky editing to keep things visually interesting and just enough outrageous violence (such as Lenny's proclivity for crawfish torture) to remind us we're watching a gangster movie.

Coolness is all for Ritchie. With the possible exception of his poorly received remake of "Swept Away" as a vehicle for Madonna, his films have never meant to be anything more than cleverly written, stylishly executed diversions. So it's not quite fair to fault "Rocknrolla" for being insubstantial. "Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" had considerably more stylistic flourishes to offer, though and they had the advantage of being surprising and therefore exhilarating. With the exception of a sex scene here that's broken down to key micro-second fragments and an inventive post-robbery chase scene that opens with smashing violence and ends when the participants are just too tired to carry on, even Ritchie seems to be a little weary of the formula.

"Rocknrolla" somewhat arbitrarily leaves an opening for a sequel, but it's hard to see where he's going to go from here -- that he hasn't already been before.

2.5 stars of 5