I have some sympathy for Guy Ritchie, to be honest. After knocking out two enjoyably lightweight stereotype laden cockerney gangsterfests Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, forces of darkness conspired to produce Swept Away, his involvement being understandable if not forgivable. Then came Revolver, which was at least attempting to head into something approaching new territory for Ritchie as a director. Sadly it was a messy horrorshock, so in a way it's not too surprising to see him return to the kind of stories that brought him to the dance in the first place for his latest, Rocknrolla.
As is reasonably common with Ritchie's penchant for near infinite amount of characters and plot progression that relies as much on sheer coincidence than motivations, if I attempted to describe what was happening in any great depth I'd require multiple timelines and flowcharts with more annotations than I can quite be bothered with, although as is also common with Ritchie's work it's never particularly confusing or unenjoyable.
In a nutshell, Laahhhnnndaaahhhnn property boss slash criminal overlord Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) strikes up a deal with equally shady Russian property boss slash criminal overlord Uri (Karel Roden) that threatens to go horribly wrong when Cole's renegade step-son and titular Rocknrolla Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) steals one of Uri's paintings (don't ask). Cole has his urbane right hand thug Archie (Mark Strong) track down Quid, taking him on a tour of the London underworld, which incorporates a small time crime crew headed up by One Two (Gerard Butler), who's involved with Uri's glamorous accountant Stella (Thandie Newton) scheming against her boss that puts them squarely in the thick of things for reasons that would take another twelve paragraphs to fully explain.
Ritchie's plots are rather like candyfloss. There's an awful lot of it, but it's not particularly dense or filling, and gets stuck to your face and rots your teeth. Your metaphorical face, that is. And teeth. On balance, his plots aren't all that similar to candyfloss. Look, this isn't Empire. If you want quality writing then go and pay for it, otherwise stop complaining. Well, this paragraph has rather fallen apart. Let's try another one.
I am, of course, stalling for time, because there's not a great deal to say about Rocknrolla that hasn't already been said about Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch for the simple reasons that it's the same film again, in a slightly different order. And without Jason Statham. It's not as compelling as the other two in the Mockney trilogy, but that's for the most part because it feels awfully familiar.
As Statham replacement Gerard Butler is likably roguish and clownish enough, Mark Strong does the (ahem) strong, stoic type well enough and Tom Wilkinson's scenery chewing fits the role well. It suffers from exactly the same problems as Lock Stock and Snatch, with so many characters having good chunks of screentime that they all come across as little more than shallow stereotypes and caricatures, but that's also part of the reason that Ritchie's films work.
This makes no claims at being a serious look at the psychology of criminals. It even makes Layer Cake seem nuanced and considered by comparison. It's Vaudeville, the music hall version of Goodfellas, where Ray Liotta keeps breaking into Knees Up Mother Brown. Arguably, this act is getting a little old by now.
Not for me though. Ritchie could know out one of these every three years until the end of time and it'd keep me entertained, if he can keep up this halfway decent level of writing. Your milage may vary, and it's not going to change your mind on Ritchie's output. You may find it a little sad that he's pulled a Kevin Smith and retreated into his familiar stomping grounds in the face of some criticism. You could start talking about laws of diminishing returns and so on. There's plenty of reasons to lay into this film, but I found it pretty funny and pretty entertaining and I've no massive complaints about it. So I won't lay in to it.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Gerard Butler (One Two)
Tom Hardy (Handsome Bob)
Thandie Newton (Stella)
Mark Strong (Archie)
Tom Wilkinson (Lenny Cole)
Karel Roden (Uri)