YEARS ago, Guy Ritchie used to make corkscrewy cockney capers like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch." Then something seems to have distracted him.
Today, he's once again a rude boy in top form as he was a decade ago, letting thrash again with the bloodily entertaining and well-titled "RocknRolla," which is a sharp comedy as well as a punk-pulp spree. Don't go if you can't handle Brit slang. ("Grass" = informer.)
As in his two best films - I'd rank "Snatch" the best and "RnR" a close third - Ritchie lights a fuse and watches the story line explode in every direction.
The screen bustles with gangsters, vixens, double-crossers, drugs, cons, cute nicknames, tattooed villainy, "ladies of the pole" and a snitch who loves "Remains of the Day." Somehow, there's even room for Jeremy Piven.
There's also a pointed comment about Americans - American crayfish, actually, who are said to eat up everything around them and then devour each other. I don't know if Ritchie knows any Americans particularly well, but possibly there's some sort of message in there.
A snarly Tom Wilkinson hits the bulls-eye as Lenny, a vicious London crime boss ("There's no school like the old school, and I'm the f - - - in' headmaster"). Before the credits are even finished, Lenny has swindled a less advanced criminal named One Two (an excellent Gerard Butler) on a deal to buy a building. He's also agreed to take a 7 million euro payoff from a Russian real estate lord in exchange for greasing a politician to get a development approved. As the bribe is being delivered to Lenny, though, it is stolen - by the same guy Lenny just cheated.
Also in the mix are a feline accountant (Thandie Newton) and Lenny's crack-smoking rock-star stepson (Toby Kebbell), who has died three times this year but still manages to be a nuisance. Every one of these characters, and then some (such as the rocker's managers, played by Piven and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), wants to find a lucky painting - unseen by the audience - that serves the same purpose as the mysterious briefcase in "Pulp Fiction."
No need to mess about with plausibility, given the anarchic comic-book feel. Why would the Russian voluntarily give his prized painting to Lenny? And it may be possible that two unarmed accountants would be given 7 million euros in cash to transport, but I refuse to believe they would be listening to "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" while doing so.
Things get even more febrile in a blistering good chase in which One Two marvels at the Rasputin-like indestructibility of two thugs trying to recover their boss' loot. There's also a very Tarantino scene in which a couple of the lads threaten to get medieval on their unfortunate captive.
Tarantino's tendency to get speechy, though, is largely avoided in favor of cockney playfulness that Ritchie finds irresistible: There's "He just needs a few hours with a right rotten tart and then he'll be in there like swimwear" and "All she got there was a hot bath and a cold razor" and "Think before you drink before you drive me mad."
Ritchie has a dry wit, too. I particularly loved this one: "Keep your receipts 'cause this ain't the Mafia."