By Steve Warren – Contributing Film Critic

Madonna’s ex gets his groove back with queer mobsters

GAY MAFIA: One Two (Butler, left) and Handsome Bob (Hardy) face the perils of disorganized crime.

They may not be the Gay Mafia, but some members of the London underworld in Guy Ritchie’s "RocknRolla" bleed more pink than red.

Ritchie may have lost Madonna, But he’s gotten his career back, and that’s good news for us, if not for him. In "RocknRolla" his writing and direction return to his early peaks of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," with the same sort of convoluted plot, frantic pace and dark humor.

The narrator, Archy (Mark Strong) works for Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a self-made man who owns London, to hear him tell it. His real estate dabblings offer a different view of how the current crisis started. Lenny can charge what he wants and he has a councillor (Jimi Mistry) in his pocket to get zoning changes approved — or disapproved.

This works against One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba), two smalltime hoods who borrow from Lenny to buy a property they’re not able to develop; but they still owe him the money. "There’s no school like the old school," Lenny says, "and I’m the fuckin’ headmaster."

On the other hand, Russian Uri Obamavich (Karel Roden) can get what he needs from Lenny — for $7 million in cash. He arranges to get the cash through Stella the accountant (Thandie Newton), but she tips off One Two to where the transfer will take place, and it’s easy pickings for him and Mumbles — less 20 percent for Stella.

In the meantime, Uri has loaned Lenny his "lucky painting" to seal the deal. It’s soon stolen from Lenny’s home and almost as soon traced to missing and presumed dead

rockstar-junkie Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), whose connection to Lenny dates back to his youth.

The road to Johnny leads through Cookie (Matt King) but Lenny puts the squeeze on clubowners Mickey (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and Roman (Jeremy Piven), whose clubs can be closed with a snap of his fingers.

Most of these characters have been in prison at one time or another, thanks to an unknown snitch in their midst. But occasionally, it’s possible to make their paperwork "disappear" and spare them hard time. The latest beneficiary of this kindness is Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), who is in the Wild Bunch with One Two and Mumbles.

Not knowing Bob will avoid his five-year sentence, One Two arranges a going-away party for him the night before, including sexy erotic dancers. On the way to the party, Bob confides to his friend, "I don’t want the strippers. I want you."

One Two freaks and says some very unkind things, but they soon apologize to each other and One Two asks, "What exactly is it that you want to do to me, Bob?"

"That’s what friends do for one another," Mumbles tells One Two later, after telling him everyone else has known about Bob forever.

Another lavender lowlife is attorney Bertie (David Bark-Jones), who may be Stella’s husband. She describes herself as "a 30-year-old accountant married to a homosexual lawyer … A marriage of convenience can be very inconvenient." Bertie finds Handsome Bob handsome, setting more plot wheels in motion.

The actors seem to be having as much fun as the audience, but without winking at us in the process. Butler and Strong are a bit too similar in appearance, both doing variations on Clive Owen, but Archy’s slapping lesson is a quietly hilarious highlight. Newton makes a great femme fatale.

As a writer and director, Ritchie may be a one trick pony. But it’s a great trick when he gives us time to miss him between films. "RocknRolla" shows what we’ve been missing. It’s slicker than his early works and the accents are easier to understand, but there’s so much information to absorb you’ll want the DVD so you can rewind periodically to catch something you missed.

Considering the complexity, it’s surprisingly easy to follow most of what’s going on, so maybe you’ll just watch it again because you enjoyed it.

And if it leaves you in a dancing mood, there’s more gay dancing behind the closing credits. Not for any particular reason — it’s just there.

B Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jeremy Piven and Tom Wilkinson
Opens Oct. 31 at the Dallas Angelika. 1 hr. 54 min.        R

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 31, 2008.

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