Monday, December 1, 2008

Review: RockNRolla

What a deeply, deeply disappointing film this was. I should have known, really; I read that "RockNRolla" was shown as the surprise film at the Chicago Film Festival this year, and a lot of people left. Despite this, and the negative buzz, not to mention the constantly shifting release date, I wanted to believe in this movie. I'm a huge fan of Guy Ritchie's early work, particularly "Snatch," which yielded what might be Brad Pitt's best performance. However, Madonna and "Swept Away" happened, and Ritchie tailed off from there. Case in point: last year's "Revolver," which was Ritchie's attempt at a "Fight Club"-esque mindfuck that fell on its face.

"RockNRolla" was supposed to be Ritchie's return to form, to the delirious, hilarious crime adventures he built a career on. Instead, it shambles along at the tempo of a bad episode of "Law & Order." The story centers on...well, come to think of it, I'm not quite sure who it's centered around. The titular "rock n' rolla" is Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a snotty Pete Doherty doppelganger (in personality, at least) who's gone AWOL, presumed dead. However, nobody in the crime underworld believes that Quid is actually dead, least of all his adoptive father Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson, who looks like he's having a ball), the biggest and most successful crook in London.

Cole is having trouble with the new Russians in town, and things take a turn for the worse when Cole loses the lucky painting of the Russian boss. He enlists One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) to get the painting back, but they end up involved with Stella (Thandie Newton), a femme fatale who seems to be playing every possible side. There are about a million more characters and plots in play, and describing what happens is just about impossible, not only because I don't take notes during movies but because it seems like even Ritchie didn't quite understand the film he was directing.

This could all be forgivable if Ritchie had played this like his old films; "Snatch" has a plot every bit as labyrinthe, but it worked because it was funny and had a kinetic energy ripping through every frame that left the audience breathless and not caring about plotting. Here, Ritchie tries to make a crime film like every other filmmaker, and loses what made his early work so innovative and great. The film spends nearly the first hour of its 110-minute running time setting up all the pieces, and it takes so long to get to the action that by the time you get there, any involvement in the plot has long gone out the window.

Even when the action does show up, it lacks the spark of Ritchie's earlier films. For that matter, it lacks the spark of most recent action films. The film's standout scene is a foot chase between One Two and a seemingly unkillable assassin, which might be the most realistic chase ever put on film; by the end, both men are limping after each other, unable to run out of exhaustion. Kebbell also stands out as a philosophy-spewing junkie with a penchant for violence, who always seems to be one step ahead of the fray. His character belongs in a better film than this.

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