In his book on screenwriting, “Which Lie Did I Tell?” Oscar winner William Goldman lists 10 common movie cliches, a collection that includes such classics as this: “When paying for a taxi, don’t look at your wallet as you take out a bill - just grab one at random and hand it over; it will always be the exact fare.”
Other examples include the never-ending supply of primo parking spaces on crowded city streets and the apparent ease with which a credit card picks a lock. You’ll see these cliches in every movie at the multiplex, and for good reason: As Mr. Goldman explains, “the ten cliches are about trying to save time.” They keep the plot moving forward. They keep the action pumping.
Guy Ritchie doesn’t subscribe to the William Goldman method of screenwriting.
The gangsters who populate his movies perpetually get tripped up by the little things. Consider the plight of One Two (Gerard Butler), a small-time hood who, along with pal Mumbles (Idris Elba), steals a car filled with 7 million euros. Only he can’t figure out how to put the car in reverse. The gears stick. What follows is a 90-second digression in which One Two’s victims aid his getaway. It’s the sort of everyday black humor that fills Mr. Ritchie’s oeuvre.
“RocknRolla” is a return to form, of sorts, for Mr. Ritchie. After pumping out two atrocious movies - the insipid “Swept Away” and the hopelessly pretentious “Revolver” - the British director has returned to familiar territory, that of the small-time hood. When I say “familiar territory,” I mean “virtually identical territory.” Small-time hoods in over their heads with a gangster more than happy to feed them to the local wildlife? Indestructible Russian toughs? A hood roaming the ‘hood roughing up its denizens in search of a priceless decoration?
Sounds like “Snatch, Redux.”
Fortunately, it works; few writers have mastered the patois of their subjects as thoroughly as Mr. Ritchie. The street talk is tough, quick and sometimes unintelligible, but always entertaining. The film has a similar visual panache; it’s overly stylized and unnecessarily flashy, but a treat for the eyes. Make sure not to miss the opening credits, always a highlight in a Guy Ritchie flick.
The performances are almost uniformly entertaining, but one in particular stands out: Mark Strong’s turn as Archie, the right-hand man of head gangster Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), is, well, strong. A veteran of the British stage - and a dead ringer for Andy Garcia - he also starred in this fall’s “Body of Lies,” Ridley Scott’s underrated thriller, as the head of Jordanian intelligence.
Jeremy Piven and Ludacris show up for a couple of entertaining scenes as a pair of record producers, while Toby Kebbell impresses as Johnny Quid, a wayward rock ‘n’ roll star/heroin addict/drugged out philosopher. Quid is a frustrating role; in an ensemble cast this large and eclectic, someone is bound to get lost. It probably shouldn’t be the title character, however.
With a sequel promised, we should see more of Quid. Hopefully we will spend a little more time with him next time around.
RATING: R (Pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Guy Ritchie
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutesView Entire Story
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