Posted by Chad Webb on 10.10.2008
Guy Ritchie is back, but for better or worse?
Gerard Butler: One Two
Tom Wilkinson: Lenny Cole
Thandie Newton: Stella
Idris Elba: Mumbles
Tom Hardy: Handsome Bob
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges: Mickey
Mark Strong: Archy
Karel Roden: Uri Obomavich
Geoff Bell: Fred the Head
Jeremy Piven: Roman
Toby Kebbell: Johnny Quid
Gemma Artertron: June
Kimi Mistry: Councillor
Written/Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Release Date: October 10, 2008
Running Time: 114 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality.
The word on the street will certainly be that Guy Ritchie has “returned to form” with his latest venture, RocknRolla. What you might not hear is that Ritchie is exploring the same territory he has conquered numerous times in the past. The naked eye and untrained ear could deduce that a connection exists between his slump and his marriage to Madonna, but that is a road we do not need to travel down. The short and skinny of the matter is that RocknRolla barely reaches the level of mediocrity.
The story is of course incredibly convoluted and filled with seedy members of the criminal underworld. A Russian mobster (Karel Roden) is setting up a real estate scam that will generate millions of pounds, and all the shadiest people around London who have gotten wind of this deal want to pursue their share of the riches. They include the Wild Bunch, comprised of Mr. One Two (Gerard Butler), Mumbles (Idris Elba), and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy). You have Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a boss of some sort who claims to run the area, various thugs hired by the Russian, an accountant named Stella (Thandie Newton) handling the money, and a rock star who complicates the matter by stealing a panting. The narrator is Archy (Mark Strong), the right hand man of Lenny. All the plot threads cross over and come together in one way or another.
One of the reasons some are pleased with this rather lazy and artificial effort is because RocknRolla is a definite improvement from Ritchie’s previous disaster Revolver, one of the worst and most insulting films of 2007. The general attitude will be “Hey, it’s not as bad as this, so we’ll take what we can get.” Ritchie takes a catchy title and a similar layout, slaps glue on them, and should have a winner right? Wrong. This is a poor attempt to win back the fans that have no doubt begun to turn the other cheek.
With Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, the style was fresh as the humor intermingled with the crime-caper. The passion and energy was always bubbling and simultaneously keeping the audience on the edge of their seat. Regardless of any decline in quality from Ritchie, those two films have aged wonderfully. RocknRolla establishes the same approach, but lacks the spunk, spontaneity, and sport to enhance the familiar themes. RocknRolla had a choice between style and substance, but ended up getting lost somewhere in the middle.
That is not to say all hope is lost. Ritchie is still quite adept at obtaining exciting performances from certain cast members, even if the characters do feel like recycled clichés. Tom Wilkinson for instance, is insanely over the top as Lenny Cole, but steals the movie by chewing the scenery, delivering each line with gusto, and making those around him seem intriguing. Mark Strong is adequate as narrator and assistant Archy. He has an important part in the proceedings, but only stands out sporadically. Gerard Butler is a sufficient actor, but his charisma and appearance does not mesh in this sleazy realm of the globe. As Mr. One Two, he is a common goon, but one wonders why. One could wager that this is the role Jason Statham planned on assuming, but could not due to scheduling conflicts.
The supporting cast is hit or miss with Ritchie again recruiting a rapper turned actor with Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, who got lucky with Crash, and has not proven much since then. He and Jeremy Piven are two recording agents. Piven is sorely underused here as he is given nothing to do. Toby Kebbell is the titular character I suppose as Johnny Quid, and is presented with the meatiest dialogue such as “That which starts sweet ends bitter, and that which starts bitter ends sweet.” He is an enigma as this story unravels, and a dull one at that. Through him, the film spirals downhill fast. Thandie Newton is passable as Stella the accountant, but was better in Run, Fatboy, Run. Her dance number with Gerard was fun though.
The snappy script is not as sharp, but manufactured, and the action is ordinary aside from a few clever sequences. One car wreck and chase scene towards the end was invigorating, but arrived too late. My favorite moment occurs when two Russian thugs compare wounds and scars. Unfortunately, the cons outweigh the pros without any cause for debate. Ritchie’s direction is heavy and dark. Every scene is filmed with dim lighting that grows annoying. The laughs are available, but Ritchie has unquestionably concentrated on that to disguise the pedestrian tale. The soundtrack was respectable with many excellent songs and bands. The question that will keep bugging the audience is whether or not this is all Ritchie has to offer.
Guy Ritchie’s intentions should not have been to please his niche group of devoted fans. His accomplishments in this genre are well noted, and RocknRolla is not the best example of that. His goal now must shift to proving his versatility, and perhaps his Sherlock Holmes project will do that, but skepticism in the eyes of critics and viewers will haunt him until he broadens his horizons. After all this time, I feel have earned a cheap pun. RocknRolla does not rock one bit.
The 411: My prediction is that the majority of those who afford a positive rating to Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla will be faced with a dilemma. One day they’ll be in the mood for a quality crime-caper, possibly from this director. I’d bet any amount of money they do not pull this film from the shelf. Aside from a small handful of entertaining scenes, and a few juicy performances, RocknRolla is a certifiable letdown. Wait for DVD, if anything.