RocknRolla is not a sequel as I may have led on, but simply a film in the same vein as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. After deviating from the "multiple storyline" gimmick since 2000, writer/director Guy Ritchie returns to the form that made him famous for his latest film. Sadly, the eight year break seems to have gotten to Ritchie and he was unable to bring himself back to his heyday. RocknRolla loosely revolves around Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the self-proclaimed King of the Old School who runs most of London. Lenny is currently trying to make a deal with some local Russians, and as a token of affection Russian head Uri Omovich (Karal Roden) allows him to hold on to his lucky painting. To Lenny's dismay, the painting is stolen from his home by his estranged son, rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell). While he searches for his junkie offspring, Lenny and his confidant Archie (Mark Strong) must also keep relations with the Russians running smoothly, keeping it a secret that he lost Uri's beloved painting. Unfortunately, tensions rise as the shipment of money between the two parties continually gets stolen by One-Two and Mumbles (Gerard Butler and Idris Elba), two crooks who were tipped off by shifty accountant Stella (Thandie Newton). As the story progresses, everyone's world begins to fold into everyone else's, meeting at an end that was more of a whimper than a bang. Much less cohesive and interesting than his previous efforts, Ritchie wastes his opportunity at a comeback on this scrap heap.
To some degree, RocknRolla is a pretty film. Not in terms of the events sprawled out on the screen, but rather in how Ritchie and cinematographer David Higgs show what is being done. The use of somewhat dirty coloring conveys the grimy feel of the world these no good characters are living in. Ritchie also sometimes redeems himself with a clever filming style, specifically in one scene as One-Two and his partner Mumbles are being chased down by some unstoppable Russians. The rest of the film however, is a total loss and an incomprehensible mess. The smash-bang execution that Ritchie perfected in Snatch was obviously short-lived, as was his ability to spin an engaging story from his mental yarn. The mostly central story following the whereabouts of a missing painting is hardly enough to keep the viewers eyes forward. Even a ten year old who just drank seven Red Bulls would start to get bored. Ritchie fails to create a single memorable character from his basic, bland script. Even as I'm writing this, I frequently have to visit the IMDb page of this film to remind myself of the character's names. I can't even remember if Stella, the accountant, worked for Lenny, Uri, both, or neither. You could say that this is no more than the fault of my own memory, but I argue that Ritchie didn't do a good enough job to plant these faces in my head as he did in Snatch.
In both of Ritchie's previous multi-story films, the plot is driven by a maniacal kingpin who has "commoners" groveling for mercy. In RocknRolla, this role is stepped into by two time Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson, a consistently impressive actor that most recently knocked me out with his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin in the HBO mini-series "John Adams". To my chagrin, Wilkinson brings the biggest disappointment of the film in the form of his surprisingly weak performance. An intimidating kingpin Tom Wilkinson does not make, so much as a man who is just a jerk. The characters in RocknRolla may have feared Lenny Cole, but that is just because the script told them to. As a viewer, I was as daunted by Cole as I would be of a Pomeranian with a mean streak. In Snatch, Ritchie created a villain that truly induced fear and with the perfect performance of Alan Ford, the character Brick Top was one to remember. Lenny Cole is a boring scoundrel with no lasting power. Even Cole's growing opponent Uri was portrayed in a rather tame manner. With the exception of one scene that shows his power, Karal Roden never gets the opportunity to show how devilish his character is. The supporting performances from the entire cast, including Thandie Newton, Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Mark Strong, and Ludacris, are all nothing but exercises in mediocrity. The only showing anywhere close to being worthy of celebration is Toby Kebbell's drugged out, hyper-violent, comically apathetic Johnny Quid. His character's farcical behavior gives RocknRolla a slight ray of sunshine in an otherwise dank cave. However, his talents are grossly under-utilized and for most of the movie we are subject to the flat stories of the other characters.
RocknRolla could have had a place on my DVD shelf for years to come right next to Ritchie's other accomplishment's, but instead I will never have it enter my home again. It's unnecessary length is the final straw, closing in on two hours. Snatch was by no means short and was only ten minutes shorter than RocknRolla, but it was at least filled with things to appreciate. If you want to watch a caper flick that's fast paced and highly satisfying, watch Snatch. If you want to watched a caper flick that tries to be quick but instead gets bogged down by it's stale story, watch RocknRolla. My rating (3/10)