I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Guy Ritchie's mockney gangster films. I don't know what it is. I know that they're not very profound and have nothing to say, I know that they're a pure fantasy vision of British crime and I know that if you've seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you've pretty much seen them all. And yet, as Ritchie returns for a third iteration of the only formula with which he's tasted success , I still find myself walking out of the cinema massively entertained.
RocknRolla does absolutely nothing new. A quick list of things it shares with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch would read thus: fast paced, witty dialogue; complex, interwoven plot threads; central McGuffin driving the mayhem (#1 antique shotguns, #2 huge diamond, #3 a lucky painting); smart, rapid editing; a mountain of Cockney crime stereotypes. Even things such as hard-as-nails Russian henchmen return. It completes the upward curve of scale in Ritchie's crime films: from a rigged card game to a rigged boxing circuit to rigged property development. The crime lords get larger in stature, the sums of money owed have more zeros on the end and the capers required to resolve the situation more grand, but it's still the same concept.
You'd think this was a list of criticisms, and if you found Snatch wearingly familiar you shouldn't need it spelling out that this film won't impress you. Looking for originality? Look elsewhere. RocknRolla may be pushing the formula a little bit, but if you accept that it's still enormous fun. Ritchie's directing is as proficient as ever, it moves at a merry old pace and the plot just about stays on the rails. The characters are endearing and there's plenty of laughs to be had. Other than its dearth of invention, the only real flaw with the film lies in the opening fifteen minutes, where Ritchie sets up the plot strands which will then unravel. Whereas previous films did this in a smooth, unforced way, here Ritchie lathers it with a liberal helping of voice-over narration so there's absolutely no confusion possible as to who is who and what they're after, which on many occasions extends to pointing out the bleeding obvious. Show don't tell- it's the first rule in the book Ritchie! It may be getting to the point where RocknRolla must go down as a guilty pleasure, but guilty pleasures are often the most fulfilling kind. And so it is here.