GENRE: London bad-lad crime spree
THE PITCH: Small-time crooks One Two (300's Gerard Butler) and Mumbles ("The Wire's" Idris Elba) get caught up in complex heists and double-crosses involving missing rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), crooked real estate fixer Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) and a Russian kingpin's lucky painting.
MONEY SHOTS: Narrator and right-hand man Archy (Body of Lies's Mark Strong) demonstrates how to slap an underling. One Two and posh bad-girl accountant Stella (Thandie Newtown) dance with hilarious ineptitude. A stick-up includes a car crash, a brawl in a sporting goods store, and a chase on foot involving multiple parties.
BEST LINE: "If the slaps don't work, you cut 'em or pay 'em. But you keep the receipts, 'cause this ain't the Mafia," instructs Archy in a prime example of director Guy Ritchie's slangy gangspeak.
WORST LINE: "For a marriage of convenience, this can be quite inconvenient," intones Stella, suggesting that elegant banter is not Ritchie's strong suit.
BODY COUNT: No more than eight deaths, which is remarkably low for such a film. Not counting a torture scene involving some crayfish, the first major act of violence (Quid assaults a bouncer with a pencil) comes a full hour into the movie.
MP3-TO-BE: As you'd expect from a film called RocknRolla, the soundtrack thrums with crunchy guitars. The Subways perform "Rock & Roll Queen" during the bouncer fight. Quid lipsynchs to the Clash's "Bankrobber," inspiring a character-defining flashback. Ritchie memorably uses Lou Reed's "The Gun," Wanda Jackson's "Funnel of Love" and too many others to count.
FLESH FACTOR: Ritchie seems much less interested in sex than drugs and rock 'n' roll. There's a quick buffalo shot at the crooks' club. We see some kinky underwear, but little skin, at a posh party. Ritchie dramatizes One Two and Stella's hook-up through a series of hilariously short close-ups of moaning faces, zippers and post-coital cigarettes.
POP REFERENCES: One Two and Mumbles belong to a crew called "The Wild Bunch," after the Sam Peckinpah movie. A fence watches stuffy British films such as The Remains of the Day in his car. An unstoppable Russian leaps onto a getaway car, driving knives through roof, reminiscent of Terminator 2. The title could refer to The Road Warrior's bad guy, the Lord Humungous, a.k.a. the "Ayatollah of Rock-n-rolla."
BETTER THAN RITCHIE'S OTHER FILMS? A qualified "no." Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are nearly undistinguishable from RocknRolla as twisty, breakneck-paced crime stories with lots of attitude and little interest in characterization. Rocknrolla might be the most confident, but Snatch has a smidgen more humor and heart.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Both comeback and throwback, Ritchie's RocknRolla compellingly lays out the new London's criminal foundation, but undermines the real-world themes with pretentious speeches about addiction and the rock lifestyle. It's still funny, flashy and entertaining, and brings to mind a Woody Allen quote from Love and Death, "As empty experiences go, it's one of the best."