“RocknRolla” is a copy of a copy of a valuable original, and you know how faint and unintelligible those can be.
English writer-director Guy Ritchie cranks plenty of energy into the film, but he's tied his electrodes to a corpse to make it twitch. Wait, strike that analogy – I don't want to give him an idea for the sequel promised in the credits.
This movie rips off his “Snatch” – which, of course, ripped off his even earlier “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” (I skipped the barely released “Revolver.”)
His m.o. is intact here: gangsters with nicknames such as “Mumbles” and “One-Two,” a cast full of hard cases threatening each other in slang or accents we can barely understand, monstrous and unstoppable assassins, a plot too complicated to recount in its entirety without publishing a special section, women who are decorative tarts or cold-hearted manipulators.
As before, he piles plot points on top of each other without resolving all of them, like a magician who starts a new trick when he sees the last one going wrong. This also prevents the need for character development, at least in Ritchie's eyes: It's easier to introduce us to new blokes than to give depth to the ones we've already gotten to know.
At the top of the financial pyramid stands Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), a 60ish crook who has made millions by getting between the people with dreams and money and the people with power. Nothing gets built in his part of London unless he approves and takes a cut. Sometimes, as in the case of minor crooks Mumbles and One-Two (Idris Elba and Gerard Butler), he loans money on their expectations, holds up the deal, then demands a “favor” when they can't pay him back.
Lenny goes into business with a Russian billionaire, promising to smooth the path on a construction project in return for seven million euros in cash. The billionaire's accountant (Thandie Newton) hires Mumbles and One-Two to steal Lenny's cut, the politicians don't get paid, and the billionaire gets angry. (Here's where Ritchie's weak plotting is annoying: Though only the accountant knew when and where the cash would be transferred, the Russian never suspects her!)
The film has just one fresh character: crack-addicted musician Johnny, who wants revenge on sadistic stepfather Lenny and steals a precious painting. He's played by the riveting Toby Kebbell, who can be waiflike or psychotic or unsettlingly charismatic.
Johnny apparently tested well with preview audiences, because those end credits promise that he and other characters will be back in “The Real RocknRolla.” I wonder what a copy of a copy of a copy will look like.