"RocknRolla" a moldy tough-guy stew

by Eric Melin on October 30, 2008

in Print Reviews

“RocknRolla” is supposed to be writer/director Guy Ritchie’s return to form. What that means is that his first two movies “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” were so similar in style and plotting that they defined him as a filmmaker. After two ill-received departures (“Swept Away” and “Revolver”), Ritchie goes back to the well with his newest British tough-guy farce.

rocknrolla gerard butler russians train tracks“RocknRolla” has all the hallmarks of Ritchie’s first two films. An ensemble cast of gangsters, lowlifes, thugs, and junkies are all after a “macguffin” (this time: a painting we never actually the face of). He throws a million different motivations from a million different quickly defined conmen together, mixes them up in a stew, and spits them back out like so much backwash. The plotlines intertwine in the most unlikeliest of ways, and for a brief moment, it seems like the rest of the slog might have been worth it. It’s not.

Hint number one that your movie doesn’t make any sense: A narrator is constantly explaining everything. Tom Wilkinson is a nasty crime boss whose stepson (Tony Kebbell) is a drug-addicted rock star pretending to be dead (but for some reason still goes out to clubs); while lunkheaded crook Gerard Butler (King Leonidas in “300) and a crew called the The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah reference?) pull off a series of robberies for a cool-as-ice upper-class hottie in a slinky dress (Thandie Newton) whose motives are suspect. Come to think of it, everybody’s motives are suspect—and after a late-term plot revelation, it’s not even worth it to try to sort it all out because it’s impossible to care anymore.

thandie newton rocknrolla gerard butlerIntricate plots are fine as long as you follow the characters through all the muck and actually care about what happens to them. Either that, or the window dressing is so impressive that it doesn’t matter. (Case in point: “The Big Sleep,” starring Bogart and Bacall.) “RocknRolla” has neither, although it does contain exactly two very memorable scenes.

A funny chase involving Butler’s hapless gang features two Russian hitmen who take a licking (or four or five) and (ridiculously) keep on ticking. Besides being well-paced, there are also some nifty point-of-view camera tricks that enhance the characters’ desperation. There is also a sex scene of jump cuts that lasts about 10 seconds and gives the viewer a pretty accurate idea of the amount of emotion involved in that small time frame.

But the rest of “RocknRolla” is one identical scene after another where one guy tries to out badass the other guy. Some of them, it turns out, are bluffing—they aren’t so badass after all—but most of the time, Ritchie’s “characters” act like only movie-cool gangsters act. You know the kind: They crack wise down the barrel of a gun and spend all of their time either one-upping someone or getting one-upped. It’s tiring after a while to watch these macho men perform the same schtick over and over again.

Maybe if the dialogue were more clever (the onslaught of gay jokes between one group gets old fast and then keeps coming back), it would be easier to swallow this familiar Ritchie formula. Instead it goes down like sour milk. Some of the actors, particularly the American ones, are not up to the task. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is completely unconvincing in a small role, and Jeremy Piven’s comedic talents are completely wasted in a thankless part. (Piven may be an Emmy winner for playing a ball-out agent on HBO’s ‘Entourage,’ but he ought to fire his agent forgetting him another small role in another hipster crime ensemble—although “RocknRolla” is way less annoying than “Smokin’ Aces”).

In the end, “RocknRolla” suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Ritchie may be going back to a style of film that he knows well, but much of the movie seems like moldy leftovers from “Snatch.” I can only assume that the sequel—promised during the closing credits of “RocknRolla”—will smell even less fresh than this one.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh October 31, 2008 at 10:00 am

I definitely agree the plot was a little convoluted; especially in the beginning where i was having too much fun ordering beer and eating large amounts of fries and popcorn to really follow. But over all i did enjoy the movie. I really thought Revolver was something awful. Visually really fun… but other than that, a flop in my eyes. And i didn’t even bother seeing Swept Away. So this movie was already an improvement in my eyes. Part of the problem i see is Guy Ritchie had made a style of movie that everyone seemed to pick up and improve upon between then and now. Now he has to try and do better than them and he just can’t seem to get it perfect. However, i did find this movie really entertaining. After the initial confusion i found myself following along fine, and not bored at all. I definitely agree, Ludacris and Priven were terrible. And typically i really enjoy Piven. Over all, it wasn’t as good as “Lock, Stock” or “Snatch”, but i would give it a minor rock fist up.

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2 Josh October 31, 2008 at 10:00 am

I definitely agree the plot was a little convoluted; especially in the beginning where i was having too much fun ordering beer and eating large amounts of fries and popcorn to really follow. But over all i did enjoy the movie. I really thought Revolver was something awful. Visually really fun… but other than that, a flop in my eyes. And i didn’t even bother seeing Swept Away. So this movie was already an improvement in my eyes. Part of the problem i see is Guy Ritchie had made a style of movie that everyone seemed to pick up and improve upon between then and now. Now he has to try and do better than them and he just can’t seem to get it perfect. However, i did find this movie really entertaining. After the initial confusion i found myself following along fine, and not bored at all. I definitely agree, Ludacris and Priven were terrible. And typically i really enjoy Piven. Over all, it wasn’t as good as “Lock, Stock” or “Snatch”, but i would give it a minor rock fist up.

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3 Ashly November 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm

a week later, i think i agree with josh with the rating. i enjoyed it but yea it was hard to follow at some points but i caught up. and i was ok with not seeing the painting even though i really wanted to, it wouldnt have lived up to the hype. dont get me started on ludacris and piven was just under-done. but shit, seriously what was with the damn cigarette?! it was nice to see something different, not a remake or comic. i also wonder what guy will come up with now that hes not tied down and dealing with shit from madonnna..

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4 Ashly November 7, 2008 at 12:46 pm

a week later, i think i agree with josh with the rating. i enjoyed it but yea it was hard to follow at some points but i caught up. and i was ok with not seeing the painting even though i really wanted to, it wouldnt have lived up to the hype. dont get me started on ludacris and piven was just under-done. but shit, seriously what was with the damn cigarette?! it was nice to see something different, not a remake or comic. i also wonder what guy will come up with now that hes not tied down and dealing with shit from madonnna..

Reply

5 Jonathan January 12, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I definitly agree that this is movie pales in comparison to Rithcie’s first two films. The plot doesn’t build up to anything, I never really sympathised with any of the characters, and it all seemed rather distant. I wasn’t hoping for something different or better, just something that could fit in line with LS&2SM and Snatch, but this is a lot worse.

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6 Jonathan January 12, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I definitly agree that this is movie pales in comparison to Rithcie’s first two films. The plot doesn’t build up to anything, I never really sympathised with any of the characters, and it all seemed rather distant. I wasn’t hoping for something different or better, just something that could fit in line with LS&2SM and Snatch, but this is a lot worse.

Reply

7 Karl September 8, 2009 at 5:27 am

I thought it was a great movie, sure if you compare it to snatch or lock stock its a little lacking, but they were seriously GREAT movies. Compared to everything else at the cinemas that year its sitting pretty damn high on the list for me. I didnt have any trouble following it…

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8 Karl September 8, 2009 at 5:27 am

I thought it was a great movie, sure if you compare it to snatch or lock stock its a little lacking, but they were seriously GREAT movies. Compared to everything else at the cinemas that year its sitting pretty damn high on the list for me. I didnt have any trouble following it…

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