Ritchie’s rich return


With “RocknRolla” we are officially out of new threatening aquatic creatures for cinematic bad guys to dip their foes into.

Sharks. Piranhas. Electric eels. Ill-tempered mutated sea bass. All of these little fishies have occupied a tank or two, used for a criminal dunking booth as a form of persuasion in films. Lenny Cole, the chief villain of Guy Ritchie’s new crime caper is also a proprietor of such a nefarious aquarium.

So what does he choose to stock in his pond of persuasion?

Crawfish. Yes, that Louisiana delicacy that is little more than an overgrown Sea Monkey is what Lenny uses to taunt his victims.

It’s (hopefully) meant as a lark in Ritchie’s assured return to form after misfiring with the disastrous “Swept Away” (starring wife Madonna) and the befuddling “Revolver.” “RocknRolla” creeps back into the underworld where he is most comfortable, populating it with yet another round of entertaining, three-dimensional, two-bit, one-track-minded ruffians who inhabit it.

Lenny (played by Tom Wilkinson) is trying to score a real estate deal with a younger, leaner Russian “businessman” (played by Karel Rodan), but is soon realizing his way of lawlessness is slowly giving way to a more harsh, bitter brand of criminality.

Meanwhile, his middling thugs get mixed up in the fracas, testing allegiances as well as each other’s patience.

One Two (played by “300’s” Gerard Butler), Mumbles (played by Idris Elba), Handsome Bob (played by Tom Hardy), Archie (played by Mark Strong), and Johnny Quid (played by Tony Kebble), are all crossing paths and cracking skulls — sometimes their own – in an attempt to pad their pockets with payoff.

A scheming accountant (played by Thandie Newton) and a pair of seamy music executives (played by Jeremy Piven and Ludicris), also figure into the scheme.

Through the thick British accents, it might be difficult to catch each and every line lobbed onto the criminal battlefield, but the film is immediately more discernible than his thoroughly confusing trip to Kabbalah-land, “Revolver.”

Some may see “RocknRolla” as the director falling back on a crutch, cinematically. But it is a crutch that has served him well, and the director seems to have done some maturation in the years since he rocketed onto the landscape with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and its follow-up “Snatch.”

This film doesn’t feel as hopped-up and antsy, allowing more exposition with some rather engaging characters. One scene in particular takes a Hitchcockian foot-chase – one that would typically be wrought with hyperkinetic editing and a thundering soundtrack – and adds an amusing twist to its conclusion that is as realistic as it is comical.

The cast is primed and ready to groove with Ritchie’s signature vibe, happily contributing moments of appropriate over-the-top histrionics and awkward humility, especially Wilkinson, Butler and Strong.

Ritchie breaks no new ground as a director, with his visual flair on full display. But he has grown substantially as a writer, which elevates its gallery of goons to more than Tarantino-esque tough guys.

The cast of “RocknRolla” can stand confidently beside the motley crews he’s previously assembled on the screen.

~ by usesoapfilm on October 13, 2008.

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