Early in RocknRolla, the latest film from Guy Ritchie, we're informed that London is fast becoming "the financial and cultural capital of the world". Over the last 10 years, Ritchie, with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, has already constructed his vision of London as a virtually womanless landscape littered with violent and witty gangsters, strangely lacking in any effective law enforcement. In his newest crime-soaked, London-set film, Ritchie may have added a leading lady and borrowed a few of his characters from the headlines, but the result adds little to commend and plenty to lament. Less a cultural capital than a playground for armed sociopaths, Ritchie's London, while admittedly fresh and exciting in his earlier efforts, has regrettably gone stale.
The film is narrated by Archie (Mark Strong), second-in-command to Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), a local crime lord and an unsavoury character in a city full of the same. With undue influence in all forms of London property, Lenny is essentially an estate agent with goons.
The film's overlapping plots and storylines are familiar territory for anyone who saw Lock, Stock, suffice to say that various morally challenged souls – played by Thandie Newton, Gerald Butler, Jeremy Piven, Idris Elba, Karel Roden – are all in one way or another tied up in seedy deals with Lenny. And such deals, of course, go horribly wrong in ways allowing Ritchie to delight in violence draped in comedy.
As mentioned, Ritchie's past efforts (the abysmal Swept Away aside) have been strikingly short of actual speaking roles for females. An uncharacteristically dull Thandie Newton is called upon to change that as the thieving accountant of a Russian businessman (Roden). Unfortunately, Newton's not alone in the frustratingly dull department. Wilkinson's Lenny simply lacks any fear-inducing presence and Roden's caricature is nothing we haven't seen in half a dozen Bond films. A wonderful Toby Kebbell offers a rare bright spot as Lenny's rock star stepson, as does Butler as the likeable thief One Two. There are a few genuinely funny moments, but they are few and far between. RocknRolla suffers from an unmistakeable deficit of wit.
More than a few people are going to be more than a little irritated by the film's ending, which leaves enough unfinished business to fill two sequels, which is perhaps Ritchie's intention. However, unless he finds the form that breathed such great life into the crime genre eight years ago, the sequels will be as forgettable as the original.
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