Review: RocknRolla

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."

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