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Lock, Stock and One Tired Retread

Haven’t we seen this before? Charitably casting aside Swept Away, his amateurish foray into romantic comedy that (rightly) inspired a chorus of stupefied gasps, Guy Ritchie has founded his career on increasingly familiar crime capers populated by characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Jack the All-Seeing Eye and Hatchet Harry.

With RocknRolla, Ritchie returns to his favorite setting, the London underworld, to tell the mostly indecipherable stories of One Two (Gerard Butler, of 300), Mumbles (Idris Elba) and Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy), bumbling gangster wannabes looking to score easy money off a shady real-estate deal. When they’re double-crossed by their creditor, a ruthless crime lord played with fearsome intensity by Tom Wilkinson, payback is in the offing.

Then all hell breaks loose, as Ritchie’s story unravels into a convoluted mess involving a priceless piece of art sought after by, well, pretty much everyone. Along the way, we meet a crack-smoking rock star (Toby Kebbell) who fakes his own death to sell more records; a hapless pair of American rock promoters, played by Jeremy Piven and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges; and Stella (Thandie Newton), a seductive femme fatale who slinks about in stilettos.

By now, we know to expect from Ritchie the same brand of ultra-violent, rapid-fire set pieces that seemed fresh in 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and slightly less so in his carbon-copy follow-up, Snatch. The good news: After the twin embarrassments of Swept Away and the aggressively unintelligible Revolver, he seems invigorated by his return to the crime circuit, and there’s some sharp, boisterous dialogue worked into RocknRolla’s hodgepodge mix. Ritchie’s most memorable characters have always been defined by their cockney cockiness, and Butler and Wilkinson wring solid laughs out of the incessant trash talk.

The bad news is that Ritchie’s act has grown discomfortingly stale. His movies are all style, lacking even the slightest hint of substance, and never for a second does he give us any reason to care what happens to his latest collection of vicious thugs and good-natured n’er do wells. They yap at each other and shoot each other in the head with unflagging enthusiasm, and in the end we’re left with a pointless spectacle that induces déjà vu all over again.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars