Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells kicked off the sub-genre of London gangster films. Films about geezas, right royal hard bastards. After the success of the film, innumerable imitations, rip-offs and Ritchie's own follow-up, Snatch, the genre got tired and dull. Ritchie himself tried his hand at something different, and made two films so poorly received that people began to wonder if Ritchie had actually lost his mind. He returns to the genre he's most comfortable with in the film RocknRolla, released this week.
RocknRolla follows the same old formula as Ritchie's other gangster films. We have an artifact of some sort. This time, instead of a pair of shotguns or a diamond, it's a painting. The artifact is in the hands of a 'godfather' of a London gang, Lenny Cole played by Tom Wilkinson. The painting is knicked and a whole slew of gangsters, cheekie chappies, hard-nuts and whatever other description you want to use for these character are charged with getting it back before the claret flows. Cole's stepson, rocker, junkie, and suspected dead-man Johnny Quid has stolen the painting and everyone must get use their contacts on the streets, fists and guns to return the painting to Cole so he can complete a deal he's making with a Russian football-club-owning billionaire.
If you've seen Lock, Stock and Snatch, then you've pretty much seen RocknRolla. Which is actually unfair to the previous two films, because they were actually pretty entertaining. RocknRolla is more of the same old, same old. There's very little subtlety, character development or story. There's a voice-over which just seems to be a cop-out in terms of letting the story tell itself, and the snazzy camera flourishes just distract from what is a simplistic and brainless plot. Instead of developing characters, Ritchie just gives people hats and kooky names which are never explained and never seem to describe the characters they're attached to.
The acting isn't really up to much either. Tom Wilkinson is awful, and I do mean awful as Lenny Cole. Wilkinson seems to have overdosed on The Long Good Friday and is regurgitating Bob Hoskins' role from that film. Gerard Butler breezes through proceedings with a wry smile. But it doesn't take much to do that. The rest of the cast is filled with a couple of familiar British faces, two small roles for Jeremy Piven and Chris Bridges playing the token Americans, and Thandie Newton who adds nothing to the proceeding other than a female face. The only really notable performance is from Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid. But it's not really the fault of the actors that none of them have much to do. The film is just written that way. I wouldn't be surprised if the character description in the screenplay consisted of 'he wears a trilby hat' or 'he has a Scottish accent.'
1999 called and it wants RocknRolla back. The film is part of a sub-genre that has long ago run out of steam. It has elements that relate to London today. Especially the addition of a Russian billionaire who owns a football club. It's that kind of ham-fisted subtlety that is all over RocknRolla. It's neither original nor innovative. Just a step-back in Guy Ritchie's career. It seems that he cant even make a decent version of a genre piece he once was the poster-boy for. It's not rubbish. But it's not particularly good. And it feels a helluva lot longer than 114 minutes. I weep for Sherlock Holmes.*
*Guy Ritchie's "Awight Guvna', It's Right Royal Sherlock Holmes" coming 2010.