Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Toby Kebbell, Jeremy Piven, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. (2008, R, 114 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 31, 2008
If there’s a director working today more fascinated by the kinetic and unapologetic joys of lawlessness than Guy Ritchie, I’d love to hear his or her name. It’s hard to imagine anyone else so keen on reducing the perils and proceeds of the criminal lifestyle to pure consequence-free, hyper-stylized pop. In Ritchie’s breakneck world, psychological motivation and emotional ambiguity are as scarce as the cops, and yet somehow he manages to inject enough wit, aesthetic imagination, and unbridled enthusiasm into his films to keep them from sliding into mindless commercialism. Ritchie’s latest is a sequel in spirit to his earlier London-gangster comedies Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, which might just be a nice way of saying that he’s now made the same movie three times. Anyway, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, as all the classic Ritchie tropes are present: the herky-jerky MTV editing, the sequences of extended cartoon violence set to the sounds of Eighties ska music, the improbable mutual acquaintanceship that permeates his imaginary criminal underworld, and the witty narration that plays like a voiceover to a nature documentary, presenting in colorful detail the ecosystem of modern-day British movie-gangsterism, as if London were a watering hole and all its thugs, snitches, bosses, torturers, thieves, and junkies were merely animals fighting for their spot in nature’s hierarchy: “Behold the Russian mob boss, most dangerous of all God’s creatures ….” And thank God for that narration because the plot of RocknRolla is so convoluted it would take more words than I have here to encapsulate it. Suffice it to say that it involves brutish mobsters, political corruption, a couple of high-profile robberies, lots of guns, lots of swearing, a femme fatale accountant, an ultraviolent rock star, an infinite number of fancy outfits and shiny cars, a criminal savant with a taste for the films of Merchant Ivory, and a stolen painting that everyone is looking for (just like the rifles in Lock, Stock and the diamond in Snatch). To say more would be to open a can and let the worms inside spill out onto the floor and slither off in a dozen different directions, never to be corralled again. Better instead just to sit back and enjoy RocknRolla for what it is: a fast-paced amoral joyride that’s more interested in the absurdities of violent criminality (torture by crayfish, anyone?) than the complications of real life.