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Return to form for Guy Ritchie.
Gerard Butler on the Set of "RocknRolla."
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $8,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

July 14th, 2007: Butler stars as One Two, a street-smart mobster who has learned to play both sides of the fence, and Wilkinson is playing the lethal head mobster, Lenny Cole, part of London's old mob regime, which is quickly losing ground to the wealthier foreign mob. Newton acts as One Two's love interest, Stella, an accountant with ties to the underworld, and Elba acts as Mumbles, One Two's partner. Bridges is playing Roman, an American trying to break into the music scene in London.

What to Expect: So, for the last ten to fifteen years, aficionados of the indie/edgy genre of films have been cranking out movies that attempt to recapture some combination of the magic in three landmark films: "Reservoir Dogs," "The Usual Suspects" and "Trainspotting." Throw in a few dashes of "Fight Club" and you've got an entire genre of movies defined by hipster coolness, charismatic criminality and stylized dialogue. Every year sees a half dozen movies made by directors and writers with Danny Boyle shrines in the bedrooms and the Quentin Tarantino playbook in their trailers.

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Not that this is a bad thing. Some of these films have been great. "Snatch" is a classic. But they haven't exactly been burning up the box office, which one could argue is part of their appeal. Indie film snobs (among whom I must number myself) do love their cult films, and these are almost tailor-made to be just that. Without mainstream appeal or traditional box-office domination, we all get to hang on to our cred and our reputations for more discerning cinematic palates than the unwashed masses who are going out to see "White Chicks." Guy Ritchie has been one of the genre's golden boys, courtesy of the aforementioned "Snatch" and its predecessor, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." His last film, "Revolver," was widely reviled, however, and he hasn't quite washed off the stink from "Swept Away." You might need some bleach and a Brillo pad for that, Guy.

So what's he up to now? His old tricks, by all accounts. "RocknRolla" has been endlessly trumpeted as a "return to form" for Ritchie. As usual, he is filming from his own script, but he's changed things up a bit in his casting. For one thing, Jason Statham is nowhere in sight. As a leading man this time out, Ritchie has turned to "300" star Gerard Butler as a character named One Two. Of course he is. You can't be a character in a quirky/edge gangster movie without an unexplained Quirky Name like One Two. Venerable character actor Tom Wilkinson co-stars as Lenny Cole, an old-school London gangster, the kind who is being forced into obscurity by international crime interests with far deeper pockets and is just trying to hold onto The Old Ways. Thandie Newton plays Stella, "a sexy accountant" (this description of her character is identical in every single press mention of this movie...trust me, I've looked) and Idris Elba (who you may know from HBO's "The Wire") plays Mumbles, One Two's right-hand man. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven play Americans trying to elbow into the London music scene and there is what could possibly be a breakout role for relative unknown Toby Kebbell as hapless punk musician Johnny, who Ritchie reportedly based on Pete Doherty. Piven lobbied hard for his role, which was intended for a black actor, a task made harder by the fact that Ritchie had never seen "Entourage."

As to the plot, well, does it matter? The same bullet-point summary appears everywhere, namely that a gangster (which gangster is unclear) orchestrates some phony land deal which puts millions of pounds in play for the ensemble cast to chase after, bouncing off each other in the process. I've also read that the plot involves some art thievery. Who knows? It's all a MacGuffin. These films aren't about the plot. There'll be double-crossing and double-dealing and double-talking, lots of fast dialogue, lots of different accents, a heavyweight bad guy and even heavier-weight bad guy, and our hapless hero just trying to be a lightweight bad guy and not get shot. You've seen this movie before. We all have. The question isn't what the plot is, but rather how it's executed. These kinds of films are often accused of being all style and no substance, a charge that is often not entirely undeserved, but neither can the substance overwhelm the style, which is what we came for. If Ritchie can strike a balance, not veer too far into the absurd and keep himself grounded, he might pull this one off. He better...rumor has it that Ritchie hopes to turn this film into a trilogy, continuing it into more films with whichever characters survive this first installment.

Ritchie was inspired this time around by the changing face of London, as he told filmgoers at Comic-Con, where the film's preview package was met with wild enthusiasm. London isn't what it was twenty years ago, it's become more international, more cosmopolitan, and he wanted to make a film that reflected the struggle of old-school London with the new upstart world of highly-financed crime. He acknowledges the film's similarity to his previous work but categorically states that this film will be better.

If we ever get to see it, that is. The drama of this film is not onscreen but in the boardroom. "RocknRolla" was produced by Dark Castle Entertainment, the production company of Joel Silver, who's not exactly a slouch in the production and marketing of successful films. As it stands, the film is to be distributed by Warner Brothers, except that WB president Alan Horn isn't wildly enthusiastic about the movie's chances for success. He called it "too English" and may not be willing to commit marketing dollars to promote a film that he sees as having limited appeal. Silver's been shopping the film around to other studios, including Lionsgate and Sony. Lionsgate makes its bread and butter with this kind of film, and Sony isn't groaning under the weight of a dozen New Line films that it's now responsible for, as Warner is doing. Ritchie's contract mandates 800 screens upon release, but the WB doesn't have to put up any cash for publicity if it doesn't want to. It's clear that it doesn't want to, which is why Silver is looking for alternatives and shopping the film around.

So it may be that the film will open, but nobody will know about it. Ritchie's films have a significant cult following, as do many films in this genre, so the movie will no doubt find an audience. Even if the WB threw the entire weight of its marketing muscle behind it, it's unlikely that the film would ever do "Dark Knight" ticket sales. This genre of films is one that a lot of moviegoers "don't get," so to speak. I have a feeling that Ritchie cast Butler to help the film's visibility, although I'm not sure it'll be all that helpful. Butler seems to be pretty hot right now after "300," but it wasn't Butler's doing that Zack Snyder's film was a hit, it was all about that amazing trailer, and I'll bet most of the fans who saw "300" couldn't name the film's star. If Ritchie wants to recapture his glory days, his best bet will be to make a good film. Is this that film?

And how about Ritchie's wife? I seem to recall that he's married to somebody moderately famous. Any word from her? Not directly, but Ritchie has said that Madonna has helped him see London a little differently, through the eyes of a tourist to whom everything is new and interesting, as opposed to through the eyes of a spy seeing bad guys around every corner. Gerard Butler had one anecdote about the Material Girl to share from the set. He became ill during the shoot and Madonna administered a B-12 shot to his...uh...backside, saying that'd fix him right up. It fixed him, all right...by making him sicker.

Advance screenings have produced encouraging reactions. Reports have been that the film is very funny, sharp and fast-paced. I admit that I'm always a little dubious of reviews from advance screenings; people who'd be proactive enough to attend a preview screening and then post a review immediately are usually people who were predisposed to like the film.

I don't have high hopes. I would love for this film to succeed, as I love the genre...even though it's strayed into self-caricature of late. I'd love to see a return to the exuberance and originality that spawned a million imitators. Is this just another imitator? Or is it something fresh and new? That'd be nice. I'm not holding my breath.

In Conclusion: Guy Ritchie is up to his old tricks. He promises a return to "Snatch" form with a funny, edgy gangster film, but distribution battles may limit the film's visibility and its release schedule. Fans of Ritchie and the genre will always know when the film's coming out and will make sure to see it, but will the rest of America have a clue, or care? I predict that this film will follow the same trajectory we've seen before with films like "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" and "In Bruges": it'll be seen by the fans, pick up some cult status on DVD, and be overlooked by most of the filmgoing public.

Similar Titles: Get Carter, Snatch, Trainspotting
October 31st, 2008 (limited)
January 27th, 2009 (DVD)

Dark Castle Entertainment

Guy Ritchie

Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Ludacris, Jeremy Piven, Idris Elba, Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell, Mark Strong

Total: 55 vote(s).

Action & Adventure, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality.

114 min





RocknRolla at Trailer Addict

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