Oh Guy, what a curious case you are. Are we to take you seriously as a film-maker, or are you just a next-level David Furnish – an A-lister’s plus one with a camera?
After such a blistering start to a career which found him at a happy crossroads – Lock, Stock saw him riding the post-Trainspotting, Tarantino and Loaded wave, while cannily applying those to the classic Brit crime template – he exposed his failings when he tried to veer away from the path, taking an almighty critical kicking with the unspeakably horrific crap-fest Swept Away. Reduced to being a Grazia-friendly Madge accessory, and with his laddish street credentials out the window, his attempts to regain any respect met with chronic indifference, as in the case of the lukewarm Revolver.
Having tried and failed to upgrade his gangland schtick with that effort, and with film studios possibly less likely to trust him with large-scale budgets as a result, Rocknrolla is Ritchie going back to basics. The question is, with Layer Cake and the Ocean’s 11 series laying down markers for 21st century style-mag crime flicks, is there a place for him?
Rocknrolla really is Lock Stock and Snatch all over again. A tale of a small-time gangster One Two (Gerard Butler) and his muckers who get accidentally drawn into a major gangland turfwar by a sleek lawyer (Thandie Newton), it plays a serious game of Guy Ritchie cliché bingo from start to finish – characters with names like Mumbles hang out with treacles and dish out sage advise like "give ‘im a slaaaaaaap!" On the surface, it’s not big and it’s not clever.
This being a few years down the line for Ritchie, he’s tried to reflect the social shifts as he sees it. Archetypal crime boss Lenny Cole bemoans the influx of Russian money to the city and decries their lack of respect for the old school, and through that seeps Guy’s love of the diamond geezer and the whole Danny Dyer chic. Fans of Zoo mag will lap it up while the rest of us may look for loftier fodder, but maybe, just maybe, we’re missing the point.
Rocknrolla is so absurdly preposterous, so excessive in its gor-blimey-he’s-only-gone-and-bleeding-shot-me approach that it comes out the other side as a work of great wryness. It’s so over the top that Ritchie must be joyfully poking fun at himself, and nowhere is this backed up more than in the casting of Matt King – Peep Show’s Super Hans – the man who mercilessly ripped the living piss out of Guy in the glorious Star Stories spoof.
Ritchie knows what we think of him, and has thrown it back at us. With its highly idiosyncratic and floral dialogue, stripped of any realism, there’s never any chance to lose sight of what you are watching or who made it. And it’s all the more fun as a result. Even when it openly admits to living in the past and appropriates the Thurman-Travolta dance segment from Pulp Fiction, there’s a playful abandon to savour.
But most importantly, for all its absurdity, Rocknrolla is entertaining and watchable as hell. Still a slave to the jukebox soundtrack and music video visuals format that characterised the 90s, Ritchie uses them perfectly to construct a glossy, sleek affair that sells the story to perfection. With crisp editing and direction that always holds your attention and resists self-indulgence, Ritchie has proved that if he stops fannying about he can still churn out decent fast-paced knockabout action films.
Let’s not kid ourselves, not everybody is going to love this. But seeing as the main reason to dislike it – its rampant blokeyness, shallowness and glamorisation of crime – seems to be intentionally aggravating, it mostly negates the hate. But take it for what it is, a big dumb caper movie, and you can’t go wrong.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Extras: featurette, commentary, deleted scene