Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.
There’s a minefield of British gangster flicks out there, riding the colourful wake of Guy Ritchie’s output, and similar fare. Some are solid, and some blow up in your face with mediocrity when you come across them. Dead Fish falls somewhat in between those two reactions. On the one hand, it’s slick, visually adept, well casted and for the most part acted and knows how to set up a stylized scene. On the other hand, parts of it are silly, incongruent to the piece as a whole and kind of.. Shitty. It’s both a good bad movie and a bad good movie, and I know that doesn’t give much of a concise picture or really tell you whether to watch it or not, but too bad, that was my conflicted reaction. Gary Oldman, in one of his last loopy performances before he reigned it in, plays Lynch, a lively assassin with an unstable personality. He jumps from contract to contract, until a beautiful girl (Elena Anaya) catches his eye, and he’s struck with alarming and slightly creepy lovesickness for her. She’s got an American boyfriend (Andrew Lee Potts, who almost brings the film toppling down with his shoddy acting) who is on the run from violent loan shark Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle, frothing at the mouth like a pissy little windup toy). Lynch collides with them all including Pott’s stoner buddy (Jimi Mistry always looks like he needs to pee really bad and he’s waiting for them to say “cut”). It’s not super clear what Oldman’s character objective is besides going off on a freaky bi-polar tangent as he pursues his perceived dream girl and seems ready to forsake the high paying hitman job he seems so comfortable in. Nevertheless it’s fun to see him run around shooting people and being a mental head, and no one can do that like our Gary. The plot thickens, or rather becomes unintelligible, when two secret spy operatives are brought in by some agency to.. do…man I don’t even know. Billy Zane is a weird loony toons caricature as Virgil, a stuffy old spook with a plummy upper crust accent and some… wardrobe issues. He’s paired with Eastern European psycho Dragan (the always excellent Karel Roden) and the two literally spend their portion of the film bickering, cat fighting and squabbling, having actually no real interaction or function with the plot. Oh well, they’re amusing if nothing else. There’s also a brief appearance from Terence Stamp, who classes up the affair as Samuel Fish, a shady businessman with a vaguely coherent part to play in the madness. It’s all very strange and seems assured that it knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, even if at times the audience has not a clue. On the plus side, this is the only film I can think of where you can behold Gary Oldman break out into a musical number whilst tied down by a 250 pound S&M hooker. Yikes. Keep your ears peeled for a sonic little score from Groove Armada as well.