Rock Steady

Having failed to make his wife Madonna into a movie star and likewise botched his attempts to fashion a crime caper out of the ancient Jewish Kabbalah, mock-cockney chancer Guy Ritchie goes back to his roots for the surprisingly effective and determinedly entertaining Rocknrolla.

Opening with a flashy montage of the cast and a typically pounding juke-box soundtrack, Rocknrolla centres on…well, that’s the thing. Working from his own convoluted script, as he did in Lock, Stock... and Snatch, Richie once again creates a sprawling, character-heavy world where geezers and hoodlums rub shoulders with celebrity and high society, a legion of movers and shakers who wind their way through the story while at the same time becoming embroiled in the main plot, by accident or design.

As far as I can make out, that main plot involved a pair of wise-cracking London gangsters, One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba), who become involved in a land deal with the dangerous Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) that goes belly up. The pair, given an extremely short due date for the debt, are serendipitously recruited by crooked accountant Stella (Thandie Newton), to steal a bag full of money from her Russian oligarch paymaster Uri (Karel Roden). Into this already meaty soup, Richie throws a missing painting (which we never see), a missing-presumed-dead rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) and an out-of-their-depth pair of American music producers (played by Jeremy Piven and the rapper Ludacris). Acting as a guide, in voiceover, is Lenny’s right hand man Archie (an excellent Mark Strong), who discovers a dark secret about his boss that will test his loyalty.

Although too easily distracted and belaboured with some clunky dialogue and overly-flashy photography, Rocknrolla is a return to form for Richie, aided by a talented cast, Kebbell in particular, and an irrepressible energy. All the Richie motifs are present and correct; criminal slang and inventive swearing, coincidental comedy, surprising violence, car chases and whip-crack edits. Although essentially another rethread of the ‘missing valuables’ story, Richie shows his mastery of character, filling out the presentation with funny asides, mainly at the expense of his floundering would-be hero Butler.

As you’d expect from the title, the shiny action is underlined by a blistering, brilliantly-chosen soundtrack, Richie’s trademark skills at matching sound and visuals reaching a peak with the fuzzy, growling 'Have Love Will Travel' from 1960s garage-rockers The Sonics. Currently preparing his Sherlock Holmes adaptation with Robert Downey Jr, Ritchie has already said Rocknrolla will form the first part of a trilogy of interconnected crime capers, a development to be cautiously welcomed.

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