Saturday, September 06, 2008

ROCKNROLLA - Lock Stock Lite

Once upon a time, Guy Ritchie was a director who made visually stylish, wickedly funny, caper movies set in a caricature of London's underworld. Then he made box office stinkers SWEPT AWAY and REVOLVER under the evil twin influence of Madge and Luc Besson. You can hardly blame him, then, when he retreats into his comfort zone with a LOCK, STOCK-lite, commercially viable flick designed to restore him to some semblance of respect.

ROCKNROLLA is, then, something of a return to form, if you're being generous, or a desperate attempt to recapture earlier promise, if you're being harsh. It lacks the comic insanity of LOCK, STOCK and the sheer malevolence of SNATCH. The characters are re-hashes, as is much of the dialogue and situational comedy. Everything seems lightly warmed-over, like last night's pizza. Still, for all that, ROCKNROLLA is likely to be warmly received by critics and audiences for what it isn't - a pretentious disaster.

Once again, we're back in Ritchie-land circa 2007. Pre-credit crunch, London is a mix of old school East End gangsters and new-school Russian billionaire mobsters. Caught in the middle, we have "The Wild Bunch". They're actually a rather banal bunch of working-class lads who do the odd heist and serve the odd stretch. The Russian mob pay the East End gangster to use his bent Councillor to give planning permission to a big real estate deal. The low-level crims, tipped off by the Russian's temptress accountant, nick the bribe money not once, but twice. In the process, they uncover the real identity of a grass, and procure the Russian's "lucky painting" that was stolen by the Gangster's smack-head son. The fact that I can summarise the plot so succinctly shows you how much less ambitious and twisty the plot of ROCKNROLLA is compared to LOCK, STOCK and SNATCH.

Everything seems a little weaker than in previous films. Gerard Butler lacks the gruff authenticity of Jason Statham in the lead role. His side-kicks are less colourful characters than in Ritchie's first two flicks. Thandie Newton has little to do as the temptress. Jeremy Piven and Ludacris are wasted as the token yanquie guest stars. Tom Wilkinson hams it up as the East End gangster but lacks the menace and force of Alan Ford's Bricktop, or even Mike Reid's Avi. Altogether, Ritchie has gone for big-names in his cast rather than local character actors to the movie's detriment.

There remain two reasons to watch this film: Mark Strong is always watchable and is good value in the Jason Statham role of narrator and hard-man. But the real star of the show is Toby Kebbell as the fucked-up step-son of the Gangster - a rock star who has faked his own death from an overdose - a smack-head but the only person with a clear idea of the machinations of the underworld. If there is a sequel to ROCKNROLLA, and Kebbell is at the centre of it, I'll be there on opening night.

ROCKNROLLA is on release in the UK. It goes on release in the US on October 8th; in the Netherlands on October 23rd; in Argentina and Australia on November 6th; in Venezuela on November 14th; in France on November 19th; in Germany on November 27th; in Greece and Portugal on December 4th; in Belgium on December 10th; in Russia on January 1st and in Japan on March 28th.

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