Senior Editor
10.31.08 24 Comments

RocknRolla expands into wide release today.  Below is my original review from a few weeks ago.

This is a review.  Reviews are longer than normal FilmDrunk posts because they bought pills off the internet.

Lock, Stock and a Revolving Snatch

Like the AC/DC of filmmaking, Guy Ritchie’s talent and his curse is the ability write the same thing slightly differently a hundred times.  That’s why RocknRolla can be better than 95% of the alternatives and still feel like something you’ve already seen.

Tom Wilkinson plays the old Ritchie standby, the wise but sadistic gangster who dispenses life lessons while torturing dudes and drinking tea.  Like Bricktop in Snatch, who enjoyed feeding his rivals to pigs, Wilkinson’s Lenny Cole favors dunking them in a crayfish-infested section of the Thames (Really?  Of all the nasty slimy disgusting invertebrates out there, the most intimidating thing you can think of is the edible mini lobster?). Cole also shares with Bricktop an affinity for grabbing guys by the balls as a negotiating tactic (Get it?  It’s like the opposite of a metaphor).

Wilkinson is mixed up in a complicated real estate deal with a Russian mobster, a gang of vaguely criminalish local toughs led by Gerard Butler, a young lawyer involved in a city zoning plan, and a rogue accountant played by the creepily lizard-like Thandie Newton.  Without getting into too much detail, the basic premise is that the Russian loans Cole his lucky painting (which we never actually see  – briefcase in Pulp Fiction much?), which is then promptly stolen by Cole’s Pete Doherty-esque junkie rockstar stepson who has recently faked his own death. The accountant falls for the thug and starts tipping him off to the time and locations of  her boss the Russian’s large-scale cash withdrawals, money with which the Russian intends to bribe Wilkinson, which Butler’s gang steals, but which ends up going to Cole anyway, since Butler’s guys only stole it from the Russian because they owed Cole money in the first place (though we’re never really clear on why).  You catch all that?  It doesn’t really matter.

The needlessly eccentric characters, the philosophizing criminals – Guy Ritchie is the long lost love child of Charles Dickens and Quentin Tarantino.  Ritchie rips off Tarantino so consistently and unnecessarily that it seems like a nervous tic.  In Lock Stock and Snatch it was the re-telling of the story through each character’s point of view.  In Revolver it was the Kill Bill-esque anime sequences.  In RocknRolla, it’s a throwaway reference to filling bullets with rock salt.  I can’t think of any reason Ritchie still does it other than that he always has and now it’s become a game, like trying to find the rabbit logo on the Playboy cover.

Also problematic is that some of the characters are actually interesting, which makes it impossible not to wish there weren’t so f-cking many of them.  Did we really need to involve the rockstar’s managers (Jeremy Piven and Ludacris) in this?  Ludacris is more out of place than Michael Phelps on Saturday Night Live, and not only that, he and Piven’s characters have nothing to do but stand around and watch.  All of their screen time is a waste.

The story jumps around from Tom Wilkinson and the Russian to Wilkinson’s junkie hero son and his pals, to Butler and his recently outed homosexual best friend, to social climber Thandie Newton and her marriage of convenience to a gay lawyer, to gunfights with those other Ritchie standbys, the Crazy Russians.  And in the end, it all gets resolved by a lame deus ex machina informer subplot straight out of The Departed.

Which isn’t to say that the whole thing isn’t fairly entertaining. Though there are an uncomfortable amount of gay jokes, the inner workings of Butler’s gang (perfectly handled by Butler, Idris Elba and Tom Hardy) after he finds out his best friend is gay (everyone else knew) are especially fun, and aside from Ludacris, most of the actors are total pros. Ritchie seems like a guy with good taste, it’s just that as a craftsman, the execution isn’t quite there.  And at some point you wonder how many more times Angus Young can duck walk before he breaks a goddamned hip.

…Crap, I should’ve have written this from Jason Statham’s point of view, shouldn’t I.

Grade: B

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