'RocknRolla' makes a lot of noise but little sense

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 31, 2008 | Publication: Seattlepi.com | Author: William Arnold
Publication/Article Link:http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/movies/385719_rocknrolla31q.html

With "RocknRolla," British director Guy Ritchie seems to be slamming the door with a vengeance on his eight years of being Mr. Madonna and returning to the kind of rowdy gangster comedy that made him famous in his bachelor days ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Snatch").

Surging with violence, rock music (the volume pumped up for the action scenes), testosterone ethics and male bonding, the movie plays like a cathartic night out with the guys after all those years of domesticity, fatherhood and softer movies like "Swept Away."

It's definitely rowdy enough to draw a young male audience, but it's also wincingly dated, playing like a Cockney remake of "Pulp Fiction," with no new ideas and so cartoonish in style that it's difficult to emotionally connect with anything that's going on.

The movie also seems instantly dated by the Great 2008 Economic Crisis, set as it is in a booming London "where real estate has supplanted drugs as the biggest market" for criminal ventures, and "land values only go up, up, up." (Yeah, right.)

The story involves a small-time London hood (Gerard Butler) and a Russian billionaire (Karel Roden), who are separately trying to work their way into this real-estate bonanza via the back-door services of London's top gangster/political fixer (Tom Wilkinson).

As complications ensue in their schemes, a steady stream of new characters is introduced into the mix -- a femme-fatale accountant (Thandie Newton), the gangster boss's rock-star son (Toby Kebbell), a pair of music promoters (Jeremy Pivenand Ludacris) and many more.

Gradually, the plot becomes a round robin involving an expensive painting -- the good-luck charm of the Russian -- which he loaned to the gangster boss, but it was stolen and vanished into the underworld and, for various reasons, everyone is soon trying to recover it.

You have to admire the ingenious complexity of this narrative, the sheer density of Ritchie's colorful gangster world and the enjoyably stylish performances of Wilkinson, Newton and Mark Strong (who, as the gangster boss' right-hand man, narrates the tale).

But, with its imponderable slang, East End accents and convoluted staging, the movie is a challenge to follow, it never generates much interest in its story or affection for its characters, and it's simply not half as funny as it needs to be.

"RocknRolla" is being sold as an edgy vehicle for the fast-rising Butler ("300," "P.S. I Love You"), but it disappoints in this department as well. He comes off as an unappealing marginal character and exudes a very weak movie-star presence.