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Originally published Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 2:00 PM

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Movie Review

"RocknRolla": Guy Ritchie's latest gangster flick is a stylish rehash

"RocknRolla": British gangsters tangle in a convoluted crime story of comedic action and stylish brutality. Guy Ritchie's latest entry into the genre he created is clever and zingy, but often feels like a retread of style and substance.

Special to The Seattle Times


Tom Wilkinson, right, plays an old-school crime boss and Mark Strong is his right-hand man in Guy Ritchie's "RocknRolla."

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Tom Wilkinson, right, plays an old-school crime boss and Mark Strong is his right-hand man in Guy Ritchie's "RocknRolla."

Movie review 2.5 stars

"RocknRolla," with Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Toby Kebbell, Chris Bridges, Jeremy Piven. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie. 114 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality. Several theaters.

A lot of interesting actors doing enthusiastic work get equal billing and nicely balanced bits of business in this convoluted escapade about dastardly, albeit well-dressed hooligans rubbing the criminal underbelly of modern London. The real star of the show is not on screen: Guy Ritchie's imprint is as conspicuous as a broken nose on a cockney thug. His heavy hand dominates the mosh pit of snappy patter, funny names, comic brutality, kinetic camerawork and overly elaborate intrigue that makes "RocknRolla" such a zingy piece of not too much.

Ritchie famously mined similar techniques as the auteur behind "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," which were cleverly inventive riffs on an updated British gangster milieu. "RocknRolla" is a recovery from the knockout blows of his past two films — a disastrous remake of "Swept Away," starring his soon-to-be-ex-wife Madonna, and the inscrutable fantasy crime fiasco "Revolver" — but Ritchie is certainly retreading familiar thematic territory.

If it weren't so well-crafted, all the stylish affect would come dangerously close to self-parody. As in Ritchie's first two forays where valuable objects such as antique guns ("Lock, Stock") or a diamond ("Snatch") bound the complex shuffle of character and situation, "RocknRolla" uses an unseen antique painting as the ersatz MacGuffin that ties its motley assortment of oddballs.

Standing out in the crowded cast are Tom Wilkinson as Lenny, an old-school crime boss heavily leveraged in the corrupt London real-estate market, and Mark Strong as his loyal lieutenant, Archy, who provides a running rat-a-tat of expository narration. A Russian mobster (Karel Roden) loaded with new-school cash loans Lenny the painting to seal a deal involving 7 million euros in payoffs to a highly placed city official known only as Councillor (Jimi Mistry).

A savvy small-time crook named One Two (Gerard Butler) takes temporary possession of the painting, but only after it has passed through the hands of Lenny's punk stepson Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a junkie rock star who's faked his own death to boost record sales. In addition to several other fringe participants, the painting stays briefly with Stella (Thandie Newton), the Russian's scheming accountant who's conspiring with One Two and his partners Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) to make off with the 7 million euros (which later turns into 14 million).

There's also a pair of sleazy American music promoters (Chris Bridges and Jeremy Piven), a beefy street fence with a penchant for art-house cinema and a cabal of lowlife thieves who hang around the local betting shop, all of whom become absorbed in the hurtling conflict. It's every bit as complicated as it sounds, with more contrivances piling on as the conceptual elements of the script require.

A few set pieces keep the action and comedic violence fresh, including an ingenious chase scene that introduces a tag-team of seemingly immortal Chechen mercenaries. It fits nicely into the genre that has cloaked Guy Ritchie like the bespoke wardrobe favored by his beloved East End gangsters, but it's time he got himself a new suit.

Ted Fry:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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