'Rocknrolla' - been there, done that

Category: RocknRolla Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: November 13, 2008 | Publication: La Canada Valley Sun | Author: Susan James
Publication/Article Link:http://www.lacanadaonline.com/articles/2008/11/13/entertainment/lent-rocknrolla1113.txt

Guy Ritchie’s new gangster pop hop “RocknRolla” is a film of complex cause and effect. Every twitch at the bottom in the thread of interwoven criminal conspiracies causes a ripple of reaction at the top. But sometimes a willing suspension of audience disbelief just isn’t enough. Too many twitches, too many coincidences and too many ‘huh?’ reaction moments unravel the film. And who knew schools of angry crawfish were the chosen weapon of torture in London’s creative but dated underworld?

Tom Wilkinson’s Lenny is a London gangster don of the old school, a paunchy, balding, patois-spitting hooligan who owns the city. But Lenny is incapable of changing with the times and the times they are a-changin’. Enter Karel Roden’s Uri, an immigrant Russian mafioso with a smooth manner and big plans for building an illegal luxury housing development on land reserved for the city. He needs Lenny’s help to get planning permission. Lenny, who owns a city councilor (‘The Guru’s’ Jimi Mistry), sees a way to make a financial killing. Stella, Uri’s thrill-hungry financial advisor played by Thandie Newton, has the same idea. Financial killings clash and real killings happen, although, mercifully, most of them take place off-screen.

Within the cross and double-cross of From Russia with Guns are a strangely effective assortment of talented actors in underdeveloped parts. Gerard Butler and Idris Elba as two small-time crooks, Mark Strong as story narrator and Lenny’s right-hand man, and Tom Hardy as closet gay Handsome Bob bring more depth to their roles than the writing has offered them. But particularly outstanding is Toby Kebbell as Lenny’s abused stepson and out-of-whack rock star Johnny Quid. Kebbell’s turn as a self-loathing, drug-addicted, poetic psychopath whose frightening ability to change a pencil into a lethal weapon is memorable.

Unfortunately for the picture, the story is not. A retread of other better films from Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” to John Mackenzie’s “Long Good Friday” to Matthew Vaughn’s “Layer Cake” to Terry Winsor’s “Essex Boys,” the complicated plot is rarely confusing because we’ve seen it so many times before. Tom Wilkinson’s Lenny is a riff on his John Dyke in “Essex Boys,” but Dyke was far more formidable, nuanced and frightening. Ritchie has tried hard to make “RocknRolla” a black comedy and there are scenes where he succeeds. Particularly funny is the sequence where Handsome Bob, deeply in love, confesses to OneTwo, played by Gerard Butler, that the hunky gangster is the object of his affections. So many conflicting emotions play out in OneTwo’s agitated, flattered and repulsed response that Butler looks like he’s break-dancing inside his car.

A real rocknrolla as the film’s introduction tells us, is a gangster who wants it all — drugs, money, sex, power.

No one in the movie manages to pull this off, but lest audiences leave disappointed that gangland isn’t real life, Madonna’s soon-to-be ex has promised us a sequel in the closing credits. Rumble on and see you at the movies!