Writer/director Guy Ritchie (” Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”) specializes in exaggerated “Pulp Fiction”-like crime capers set in contemporary London.
This time, a Russian billionaire, Uri Obomavich (Karel Roden), who does business out of a posh box in recently renovated Wembley Arena, concocts a crooked land deal attracting many denizens of London’s criminal underworld, particularly a manipulative, old-time crime boss Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) but also ambitious small-time crooks like Mumbles (Idris Elba), Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) and brash One Two (Gerard Butler), whose love interest is a sexy, duplicitous accountant (Thandie Newton) strutting in red-soled Christian Louboutin stilettos. There’s a stolen “lucky” painting and cash is passed in a Louis Vuitton Murakami bag. But the wild card is Lenny’s estranged stepson, Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a junkie punk rock star who was presumed dead but is very much alive.
Narrated like a graphic comic, this is a very British film — which, to Americans, means that many mobsters spurt occasionally undecipherable Cockney (subtitles would have been helpful) and the often idiotic street thugs indulge in over-the-top brutal, even surreal villainy. As always, Ritchie’s sharply into style over substance, working with cinematographer David Higgs and editor James Herbert to present his contrivances with unusual visuality, if not economy. That often happens when the director is also the writer — and there’s no one to tell him he’s spinning too many labyrinthine plotlines.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “RockNRolla” is a darkly frenetic, smug 7. After the debacle of “Swept Away” (with his now-estranged wife Madonna) and the pretentious self-indulgence of “Revolver,” it’s encouraging to see Guy Ritchie back on track again as he begins work on a new interpretation of “Sherlock Holmes” along with a remake of “The Dirty Dozen.”