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Movie Review

'Revolver' aims to philosophize about the criminal mind, and misses

Jason Statham plays a talkative, well-dressed gambler newly released from jail. Jason Statham plays a talkative, well-dressed gambler newly released from jail. (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Email|Print| Text size + By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / December 7, 2007

"Revolver," the latest Guy Ritchie shoot-em-up, is a joke. You laugh with it but mostly at it. He's plucked some quotes from his copy of Bartlett's (Julius Caesar, Machiavelli) and tried to go deep into matters of being. And naturally when you think "ontology," the name "Jason Statham" comes to mind. So Ritchie has Statham, who appeared in the director's first two films, wear a lot of soggy-looking hair to play Jake Green, an extremely well-dressed gambler who finds himself tangled up in one of Ritchie's usual booby-trap plots on his first day out of jail.

The wrinkle is that all Statham does is talk: to himself, to us (via his snarling narration). It's all anybody does, including Ray Liotta as a tan-aholic casino owner with glow-in-the-dark teeth. If I correctly read a newspaper on his desk, this guy's name is Dorothy Macha, and he's trying to get his bags and bags of cocaine back from thieves. The new illegal owners are Avi and Zach, an odd couple played by André "3000" Benjamin and Vincent "Big Pussy" Pastore. They've roped Jake, whom they've told has only three days to live, into being their reluctant partner.

Since Ritchie prefers to shoot first and explain later, none of this makes any sense. That seems deliberate. This is the kind of movie that crawls up a hole in the first scene and never comes out. One of the minor pleasures of "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" was how Ritchie turned the underworld power structure into a work of origami. The guy at the bottom could really be near the top, and there was always a surprise lurking in the folds. This new movie is all delusion and frustration: balled-up loose-leaf doing a horrible job of being a paper boat.

"Revolver" does have some wonderful sequences - one bloody passage that morphs into anime, and every scene involving a Chinese crime lord named Lord John (Tom Wu) or a marksman named Sorter (Mark Strong, the best thing in the film). Those sequences pop and bang enough to remind you that Ritchie is at his smartest when he lets the glitz hit the fan. Chaos allows his filmmaking to thrive with its derivatively opulent inanity, like Steven Soderbergh doing a Tarantino knock-off of a Luc Besson picture.

Besson happens to be a producer on this movie. And as with his own films, "Revolver" dies a little whenever anybody says more than a sentence. When Statham and Benjamin wonder about existence or lecture about the con man's nature, there's only one word: eww. Our guiding metaphor is chess, a game the movie wants to bundle into some grand idea about identity, metaphysics, and manipulation. Ritchie is going for a conundrum. But what it all means is indecipherable.

Presumably to clarify everything, to let us know that the movie really is About Something, he concludes his ponderous folly with a series of tacked-on interviews with real, very educated shrinks and thinkers. Peter Fonagy! Deepak Chopra! They explain the ego of a con man. This is laughable only because it stinks of last resort: See, I was totally on to something. But what? "The Usual Suspects 4"?

Ritchie should have tried to cull an actual documentary about the criminal mind from all his footage. But let's be honest: Guy Ritchie should really be out making Bond movies or a new "Ocean's" picture. He should be devising ways to consolidate the emotional breakthrough he made with the beach scenes in his underrated "Swept Away" remake. He should not be thinking about what makes crooks and grifters tick if he doesn't have the equipment to produce an actual thought. Otherwise, he's the con man. We haven't been entertained. We've been had.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris @globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies.

Revolver

Written and directed by: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Jason Statham, André Benjamin, Vincent Pastore, and Ray Liotta

At: Kendall Square, Cambridge

Running time: 115 minutes

Rated: R (violence, language, and some nudity.)

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