It’s easy to accuse Guy Ritchie of making the same movie over and over again, but in the case of his latest, RocknRolla, that may be for the best. After a widely reviled remake starring his superstar soon-to-be-ex-wife Madonna (2002’s Swept Away) and a genre picture buried waist-deep in philosophical mumbo jumbo (2005’s Revolver, belatedly released in America last year), Ritchie has returned to his familiar milieu of wisecracking gangsters with RocknRolla, which jettisons most of the stylistic excesses and ponderous ramblings of Revolver, and instead focuses on the same sort of colorfully named hoodlums double-crossing each other who populated Ritchie’s early films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
If Ritchie isn’t trotting out Deepak Chopra to declaim on the meaning of life, he hasn’t entirely returned to form here, either. Lock, Stock and Snatch were slight but nimble takes on gangster life, and RocknRolla tries to recapture that madcap tone with its convoluted story about a small-time crook named One Two (Butler) inadvertently stealing from London kingpin Lenny Cole (Wilkinson), thanks to the machinations of a sexy accountant (Newton). There are plenty more twists and turns along the way, but they’re all so confusing that most of the time it’s hard to figure out what the characters are trying to accomplish, or why they’re out to kill each other.
Everyone speaks in a heightened criminal patois that’s just as phony as it was when Ritchie first copied it from Quentin Tarantino, and now it sounds exceedingly stale as well. The film’s MacGuffin is a never-glimpsed painting that’s a straight rip-off of the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, only Ritchie never manages to give it symbolic weight. A whole mess of characters lumber about from scene to scene with no purpose and no energy, and occasionally something clever manages to come out of their mouths.
For all of its over-the-top absurdity, Revolver at least had ambition, but with RocknRolla, Ritchie is just going through the gangster motions, and almost all the entertainment value has vanished. Like his characters, he’s nothing but empty bluster, and it may be time to take him out.