Gerard Butler as One Two
Tom Wilkinson as Lenny Cole
Mark Strong as Archie
Idris Elba as Mumbles
Tom Hardy as Handsome Bob
Thandie Newton as Stella
Jeremy Piven as Roman
Ludacris as Mickey
Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid
Nonso Anozie as Tank
Karel Roden as Uri
David Bark-Jones as Bertie
Matt King as Cookie
David Leon as Malcolm
Roland Manookian as Bandy
Dragan Micanovic as Victor
Jimi Mistry as Councillor
Tiffany Mulheron as Jackie
Gemma Arterton as June
Geoff Bell as Fred the Head
Morne Botes as Jimmy
Jamie Campbell Bower as Rocker
Blake Ritson as Johnny Sloane
Bronson Webb as Paul

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Guy Ritchie is back in form with a cleverly cool and stylish crime-comedy that requires a small amount of patience before its second half pay-off.

Old school mobster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and his right-hand man Archy (Mark Strong) find themselves trying to catch up with the ever-changing face of crime in London when his dealings with the corrupt Russian billionaire Uri Obomavich (Karel Roden) turns sour due to the meddling of a bunch of small-time crooks led by Lenny’s former associate One Two (Gerard Butler) who’s working for Uri’s opportunistic accountant (Thandie Newton). Things get even worse for Lenny when his junkie stepson, rocker Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), steals a painting lent to Lenny by Uri, which does not make his new associate happy.

After the semi-confusing philosophical mind games of “Revolver,” one would think Guy Ritchie would be ready to try something simpler, something that doesn’t involve the viewer to keep a running scorecard. From the elaborate set-up in the first ten minutes for his fifth movie, “RocknRolla,” that’s clearly not the case. Not that there is anything wrong with creating complex storylines, since Ritchie’s first two movies became beloved classics from the way he created an intricate array of colorful characters interacting with his trademark whip-smart dialogue.

“RocknRolla” once again plays upon Ritchie’s strengths, as the filmmaker has assembled an amazing cast to bring his distinctive characters to life, introduced in rapid succession in an opening monologue requires a good deal of concentration to figure out who everyone is (especially if you’re distracted in the opening five minutes by late arrivals as I was). Even as confusing as it might be to be hit with so much information up front, the movie gets infinitely easier to follow as the plot becomes more focused.

Although this movie marks Ritchie’s first teaming with mega-producer Joel Silver, anyone expecting a movie that diverges greatly from Ritchie’s normal modus operandi with lots more action or violence may be surprised how true it remains to his earlier movies. While that does mean a good amount of gunplay at least later in the movie, the movie is very much driven by the characters that Ritchie uses to explore modern-day London.

The heroes of the story are a diverse gang of street thieves called “The Wild Bunch” led by Gerard Butler’s “One Two” and Idris Elba’s
“Mumbles,” who easily slip into the Ritchie vernacular without even blinking. One Two has gotten into bed quite literally with Stella, a Russian crime mogul’s accountant, played by Thandie Newton. As the first strong and sexy woman within Ritchie’s boys’ club, Stella is clearly in control of all the men around her, and it’s a refreshing character to introduce to Ritchie’s world. Stella’s romance with One Two is suitably fun and playful as she coerces him to steal money from her boss, and Butler and Newton get some of the movie’s best scenes, one in which they’re dancing at a party that’s almost the antithesis of the Travolta-Thurman dance sequence in “Pulp Fiction” and then later in the movie, there’s a one-of-a-kind sex scene.

As much as Butler carries the film, the secondary characters are the ones that will leave the most impression, particularly Ritchie’s latest cadre of baddies, another one of the director’s fortes. With a glaring bald spot, Tom Wilkinson’s Lenny Close is the closest to the archetype seen in previous Ritchie films, an old school British gangster like Harry Flowers who does not put up with lies or disloyalty, torturing those who hold out information with a pit filled with crawfish. His right-hand man and the film’s narrator is Mark Strong’s Archy, another terrifically nuanced role from the actor who also appears in Ridley Scott’s new movie in this week (“Body of Lies”). Some of the film’s best monologues are delivered by Toby Kebbell’s Johnny Quid, a rock star who has gone missing and reported dead, but in fact has been hustling his way to find drugs. We quickly learn that he’s Lenny’s stepson who is getting revenge on “dear old stepdad” after years of abuse, while Jeremy Piven and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges show up as his managers, playing their parts fairly downbeat without any of the humor some might expect.

It takes a good hour for all of the characters to be introduced, including the assorted members of the Wild Bunch, but once they’re all in play, it becomes more about the missing painting, who stole it and who will find it first. The way Ritchie structures the movie is impressive, bouncing around between all the characters in a way that keeps the viewer fully invested in all of the subplots, even if it really doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for at least the first hour. The most bothersome subplot, at least at first, is One Two’s homophobic reaction to his best friend Handsome Rob coming out of the closet to him, though it does offer two or three of the movie’s funniest scenes, as the rugged One Two explores his softer side.

The movie does look different from Ritchie’s prior films, though it still has a very distinct and stylish feel that makes it visually interesting. It might not be Ritchie’s most exciting movie, as the action sequences are mostly scattered amidst the many dialogue-heavy sequences, but there are some clever and fun moments like a well-paced chase to get away from unstoppable Russian war criminals.

The movie’s main problem is that it’s very hard to really get a handle on what’s going on until things come together in the second half and few moviegoers will have that kind of patience. By the time we get to the twist-filled ending, the movie has delivered enough bang for the buck that when it ends with a teaser for the next movie, ala the ’70s James Bond movies, you’ll certainly want to see more of the surviving characters.

The Bottom Line:
Guy Ritchie’s latest is not likely to be everyone’s cup of tea, as it’s rather strange and eccentric even for him at times, but it’s a good step back to what made Ritchie’s first two movies such classics without necessarily feeling he’s backtracking or trying to apologize for his previous two films. If nothing else, it’s two hours of fun, unadulterated entertainment like the kind only Guy Ritchie can deliver.