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10/31 Can't help but love Guy's kooky Cockney crooks


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RocknRolla ® *** | Can't help but love Guy's kooky Cockney crooks



After the turgid, creatively bankrupt mess of 2005's Revolver, I naturally assumed that writer-director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,Snatch) had finally exhausted the tough-guy milieu that had launched -- and essentially sustained -- his filmmaking career.

Well, I was wrong. Ritchie apparently still has plenty of Cockney-mobsters pictures left in him, and if they're anything like RocknRolla, I can't wait to see the next one. This exuberant exercise in pretzel-plotted crime capers is a ridiculously entertaining piece of nonsense, devoid of all the attempts at psychological complexity and philosophical navel-gazing that bogged down Revolver.

Everything in RocknRolla exists for sheer fun, beginning with its story, a crazily complicated tale of double and triplecrosses among gangsters that involves an imperious, old-school mob boss (Tom Wilkinson), his drug-addict rock-star son (Toby Kebbell), a Russian magnate (Karel Roden), his crooked accountant (Thandie Newton), an assortment of low-ranking footsoldiers (including 300's Gerard Butler and The Wire's Idris Elba) and a pair of American record producers (Jeremy Piven and Chris ''Ludacris'' Bridges).

Along with an ever-increasing assortment of satellite characters (including a thug enamored of Merchant-Ivory costume dramas and a pair of seemingly unkillable Russian hitmen) they continually cross paths, often in search of a priceless painting that is RocknRolla's central MacGuffin. Ritchie is careful never to allow the tangled plot to spill over into incomprehensibility, and a big part of the fun lies in seeing how the story is often sent veering into unexpected detours by the actions of the characters, whose blunders have the consequences of tumbling dominoes.

Despite its genre roots, RocknRolla only contains one sustained piece of action, a long chase between Butler's gang and the Russian terminators, who run after each other on foot for so long they're eventually too winded to run any farther, so instead they just stumble along (this may be the cinema's first foot chase in which the participants merely walk).

Although the characters are all cartoons, Ritchie still invests them with enough personality to make them stand out as real people, which is what makes RocknRolla much more involving than your typical Tarantino ripoff. When one of the tough guys blurts out he's gay and has secretly been in love with his partner for the past five years, the scene is as sweetly touching as it is unexpectedly funny.

And Ritchie tricks out all the gunplay and underworld shenanigans with moments of inexplicable weirdness, such as a scene in which Butler and Newton get up to dance at a party and begin to jerk around like marionettes controlled by a spastic puppeteer. RocknRolla is a goof, but it's a terrific one -- and it proves Ritchie's career as a filmmaker may last longer than anyone had imagined.

Cast: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Thandie Newton, Mark Strong, Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, Karel Roden, Toby Kebbell, Jeremy Piven, Chris ''Ludacris'' Bridges.

Writer-director: Guy Ritchie.

Producers: Joel Silver, Susan Downey, Steve Clark-Hall.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 114 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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