A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, R, 117 mins.
One Two: Gerard Butler / Lenny: Tom Wilkinson / Stella: Thandie Newton / Handsome Bob: Tom Hardy / Roman: Jeremy Piven / Johnny Quid: Toby Kebbell / Mickey: Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Written and directed by Guy Ritchie
For those of you Guy Ritchie apologists out there that reaped him with praise for SNATCH and LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, but were really crying foul over his last two films, the borderline incomprehensible REVOLVER and the dreadfully miscalculated SWEPT AWAY, then…no need to turn in your fan club membership just yet.
His newest blast of adrenaline-spiked masochism
affectionately called ROCKNROLLA will certainly appease those that have
thought that the eclectic and stylish filmmaker has all but lost his
cinematic mojo. Although very
far from perfect, the film is kind of nifty, fun, hip, and breezy, and
easily digestible, in an unhealthy, junk food kind of way.
I thought that
Ritchie could do no wrong after his first two hyper-stylized, wonderfully
lurid, and darkly funny pictures, but after seeing the disaster that was
SWEPT AWAY, I was whistling a tune of disgust.
That film not only had the gall to star Madonna (current former Mrs.
Ritchie), but it also was a horrible wrong sighted remake of a 1974 Lina
Wertmuller hit of the same name. Next came REVOLVER (still unseen by me), a film that - I have
been told on good faith by filmgoing friends I trust – was an inept
mess and monumentally confusing to viewers.
Maybe it was good of me to not see that 2007 film, as I certainly
have no pleasure in seeing promising directorial talents sink to the
lowest fathoms of mediocrity after a series of excellent first efforts
(see M. Night Shyamalan).
ROCKNROLLA is a
honest and sincere attempt on Ritchie's part to forget past movie sins
that he has committed and instead go back to basics: a crime caper laced
with laconic characters, delightfully twisted and convoluted schemes that
character engage in to royally screw one another, crisp and jarring
dialogue exchanges, stylistic flourishes, and some well placed dark
comedy. To call ROCKNROLLA
yet another flat, dime-a-dozen PULP FICTION wannabe would be apt –
Ritchie’s film, especially when compared in the same company of SNATCH
and LSTSB, does not reinvent the wheel the same way Tarantino’s flick
did. Furthermore, sometimes
the worst thing an ailing and down on his luck filmmaker could do is to
revisit the well of old ideas for one last hurray.
Yet, Ritchie does go back to the well and in this case his
regurgitation of past successfully ingredients – albeit lacking in
subtlety and innovation – works successfully for the most part.
I may not have left ROCKNROLLA appreciating its creativity, but the
overall film has a gnarly spunk and subversively wicked edge.
fiction concerns both the Russian and the London mafia that both try to
desperately cheat and steal from one another.
It has his usual suspects of both smart and dumb blokes, a couple
of wise old mob bosses, a presumed dead rock n’ roll star, a slinky and
sexy accountant, and – oddly enough – combines them all in an
underlining story that concerns a lucrative real estate deal and a very
priceless and “lucky” painting that everyone seems to either have or
want their hands on at one point or another. Also thrown in for good measure are the predicable series of
dastardly double-crosses, bold threats, bullets and mayhem…all done with
Ritchie's trademark self-congratulatory indulgence…but indulgence that
is not beyond redemption here.
The cast is a
hoot too: First, we get the
always terrific Rom Wilkinson, who really sinks his teeth into Lenny Cole,
a UK gangster that engages in a lucrative land deal with another Russia
Mafioso named Uri Obamavich (the steely eyed Karel Roden).
The plot does get thorny and complicated from hero out:
A man named One-Two (Gerard Butler, affectionately macho and
buffoon-like all in the same here), Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) and Mumbles (Idris
Elba) borrow $7 million from Cole to purchase some land.
Secretly, Cole actually owns the land and refuses to sell it to
them. Strangely, Cole decides
that he wants to steal the loaned money back and demands then demands his
loot back from the trio. Still
with me? Good.
Now, Uri begins
to negotiate a shady real estate deal of his own with Cole and, in good
faith, offers him a bit of good faith and security in the form of his
self-professed “lucky" painting (which, like all good MacGufifns, is
never really seen, but just simply an object of desire for most of the
characters). Now, there is
also a desires femme fatale (Thandie Newton, filling the requirements of
her limited role with great ease), who actually works as Uri’s
accountant and hires One Two and Mumbles to steal Cole’s $7 million.
Before you begin to scratch your head and say “Huh?” the plot
soon spirals out of control with a series of double
crosses on top of double crosses, too many to keep adequate count, where
the money seems to be in everyone’s hands.
Not only that, but there’s the case of that pesky good luck
painting that Cole loses and then spends the film looking for.
Hmmmm…maybe he should look towards his drug-addicted stepson
named Johnny Quid (the RocknRolla of ROCKNROLLA, Toby Kebbell).
problem with ROCKNROLLA is that it’s simply too damn confusing for its
own good. The script is
almost tortuously complicated and difficult to follow at times, not to
mention that there should have been some sort of telestrator-like graphic
on the screen to help indicate who’s who, and they relate to one
another, and what their respective motives are.
Characters (like Newton’s sultry accountant) appear and disappear
at will (often when the screenplay finds it convenient) and other
characters are brought on board without bringing anything tangible to the
story (two characters played by Chris “Ludicrous” Bridges and the
always inspired – but woefully underused here – Jeremy Piven, seem
like afterthoughts). There is
a nagging sense that the film is too overstuffed for its own good.
There is nothing inherently wrong with an ambitious script, but
ROCKNROLLA is simply too much of a mish-mash job of half-baked ideas,
story threads, and characters. With
a bit more polish (and perhaps a script re-write), the film could have
been more slick, cohesive and enjoyable.
Yet, no matter
how utterly convoluted and manically all-over-the narrative map the film
is, ROCKNROLLA is agreeably slick, fast paced, and more grimly funny and
entertaining than I was expecting. The
film is almost like a junkie at times: hyperactive and adrenaline-charged,
and always frenetic and spirited. Ritchie’s
true calling – even if it’s not narrative consistency – is his
tactful knack for balance bloody carnage and action with bleak and black
humor. Three scenes in
particular are real howlers: One occurs when One Two and Mumbles pull of a
carjacking that is borderline pacifistic and a later scene involves
perhaps the longest, wackiest, and strangest foot chase in many
a moon. One Two in particular
is being relentlessly perused by an unstoppable Russian hooligan that, not
matter how hard he hits him, continues on to peruse well past the point of
normal human endurance and toughness.
Scenes like that play for big, broad laughs and are inspired, but
perhaps the single most brilliant (and funny) sequence in the film is a
key sex scene, and the way Ritchie films and edits it gives a new meaning
to the word minimalist. I
love it when a film is able to take scenes that have been done a million
times before and give them a refreshing new luster.
are also very decent. I
especially loved Tom Wilkinson’s teeth-clenched and agitated London mob
boss, who comes across as both scary and inept (a difficult tandem, to be
sure). Gerard Butler also
finds a nice balance playing streetwise toughness alongside a
light-hearted awkwardness (look at one scene where he discovers the sexual
orientation of his partner in crime and you’ll see what I mean).
Toby Kebbell is wonderfully loopy and crazed as the frequently
stoned rock star, and BODY OF LIES’ Mark Strong – playing the second
in command to Wilkinson’s Cole – gives a new definition of cool
playing his role with a detached level of menace.
I guess, when all
is said and done, that I liked all of ROCKNROLLA’s joyous energy, its
flashy spunk and style, and its truly morbid sense of humor more than I
did its script deficiencies. Yes,
Ritchie’s film certainly is crammed to the rafters with too many
characters, too many perplexing story arcs, and a lack of structure
throughout. Yet, you kind of
leave the theatre admiring it as a sensationalistic punked-out crime
thriller that has a boisterous tempo and a somewhat infectiously fun vibe.
ROCKNROLLA is agreeably hip and cool, and even when Ritchie is
clearly guilty of pouring on too many indulgent touches for his own good
at times, he nevertheless crafts a jolting, colorful, and dourly hilarious
caper thriller. The film’s
potential is only moderately realized by Ritchie, but after two grievous
duds on his directorial resume, ROCKNROLLA is a modestly satisfying return