“Return to form” is an overused film critic cliché which usually means that a director has gone back to his roots after a few flops. Such is the case with Guy Ritchie’s new British geezer gangster film RocknRolla. His last two films, Swept Away (starring his wife Madonna) and Revolver, were pummeled by the press and ignored by audiences but his new story of London’s underworld should lure some of his core audience back to the theater.
Ritchie, also acting as screenwriter, has crafted a story that breathes the same air as his earlier scripts Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. Set in London’s down and dirty criminal underworld, the story revolves around powerful old-school gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) who opens up a can of worms when he makes a shady real estate deal with Russian billionaire Uri Obomavich (Karel Roden). When the Russian’s accountant, “a posh bird who likes a bit of the rough life” (Thandie Newton), orchestrates the robbery of a substantial amount of money in transit to Lenny she brings small time crook One-Two (Gerard Butler) his crew the Wild Bunch and two hapless concert promoters (Jeremy Piven and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) into the fray, all of whom want a piece of the action.
The script makes use of Ritchie’s ear for the cadences of London’s criminal world. The dialogue sparkles with quirky cockney one-liners delivered with a smirk by a cast who seems to have born with plastic spoons in their mouths.
The action, set against a killer pulsating soundtrack featuring a mix of new and old indie rock and punk songs, is as frenetic as ever, all canted camera angles, icy cool slo mo and rock and roll lighting. It’s a testosterone-soaked two hours that owes much to Tarantino both is style and content. Stylish and bursting with camera trickery—a deconstructed sex scene broken into six or seven well chosen shots culminating with the snap of a cigarette lighter is funny and sexy– RocknRolla apes the American director’s energy and way with parallel storylines.
What Ritchie lacks though, is Tarantino’s way with female characters. RocknRolla positively reeks of testosterone, lacking anything resembling a strong female presence. Thandie Newton has some good moments, but is underwritten and not nearly as interesting as the male characters who have, for a start, better characters names like One-Two, Handsome Bob and Mumbles and better fleshed out back stories. Even two Russian thugs who do little more than compare scars and chase Butler through a London neighborhood have a bigger screen presence than Newton. Ritchie may be a poster boy for the new British “ladism” but next time out it would be nice to have a strong feminine role—and please, don’t cast Madonna.
RocknRolla will be called a “return to form” for Ritchie, which is good news for fans of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch but bad news for actresses looking for interesting roles.