November 6, 2008

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RocknRolla (R)
Various shades of ruffian with various flavors of British accent Guy Ritchie it up, all guns and tough talk, in RocknRolla, a dopey but fun movie from the future-former Mr. Madonna himself.

You know, it might suffice to say that some guys beat up on some other guys, guys are shot, guys threaten guys, guys rob guys and in the end some guys have the tables turned on them. Movies like this aren’t so much about story development — they’re about style, about guns shot at just the right moment, about the badass-ness that is executing people by dropping them in a tank of crayfish. A rock-n-roller (or “rolla” to the Brits) isn’t about the music so much as the aggressive cool, this movie tells us. RocknRolla is equally enamored with its image more than its story.

So you’ve got old-school politician-bribing criminal Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and his henchman Archie (Mark Strong). They’re fun because Lenny is a head-buster who also likes being a businessman and Archie is even more crisply business and even more deadly.

You’ve got petty criminal fun with One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) — partners who attempted to become real estate flippers but failed and are now forced to run a couple of criminal operations to get out of the hole they’re in with Lenny. One Two is getting these jobs from Stella (Thandie Newton), a bored accountant who likes a taste of the criminal life. Her attraction to One Two is only one of two really disturbing romantic entanglements he finds himself in.

Even lower on the criminal flow chart are various drug addicts who steal and sell for a quick buck. One of them is Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), an actual rock-and-roller and Lenny’s stepson. He periodically “dies” to get his record sales up and when that doesn’t work, steals, which he does here from Lenny. The item is of particular value to Uri (Karel Roden), a Russian mobster Lenny’s trying to do business with, and Lenny becomes quite desperate to get it back.

I don’t know that any of this matters as much as moments of druggy glamour and snappy bad-guy dialogue. This kind of all flash, no bulb construction doesn’t work for every movie — I’d argue it didn’t work for Ritchie/Tarantino wannabe Smokin’ Aces — but it works more than it doesn’t here. Bite-sized servings of Jeremy Piven and Tom Hardy help add spice — it’s like a cookout where you have many dips and both regular and cheese-filled hot dogs to choose from. It’s not how you’d eat every day but once in a while it’s greasy delight. B

Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie, RocknRolla is an hour and 57 minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros.