Poor Guy Ritchie. It could be argued that the bloke single-handedly re-invigorated the British film industry with his then-unique brand of criminal mayhem, not to mention making people look at the Brits as being capable of film genres other than those involving stuffy people in corsets or whimsical blue-collar everyday Joes yukking it up. And then, just like that — See you later, Guy. It was bad enough ol Guy had to go and marry falling star Madonna, but then he had to go and put her in his movie. Now, the poor bloke can’t even get people to distribute his new movie “Revolver”. And the critics who were falling over themselves to worship at his feet when “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” first came out? Let’s just say it ain’t pretty.
It’s a good thing, then, that I never believed Ritchie was God taken human form back in 1988 when “Barrels” first came out, and as such his inexplicable fall from grace has nary an impact on how I look at his latest movie. That movie, “Revolver”, stars familiar Ritchie muse Jason Statham as Jake Green, a gambler recently released from prison after a 7-year stint that has everything to do with casino owner and low-life criminal Macha (Ray Liotta). Determined to get some measure of revenge, Green takes Macha for a healthy load of money in a single gambling session, but later loses all of it when a failed hit (courtesy of Macha) sends Green to mysterious loan sharks Avi (Andre Benjamin) and Zach (Vincent Pastore) for salvation.
The loan sharking duo claims to know how to keep Green alive, and in fact they do help him to survive past his current expiration date. But in return, Green’s saviors demand not just all of Green’s gambling winnings, but for him to accompany them on their daily loan sharking activities. Which, in either a bit of mean spiritedness or a con Green can’t quite figure out, Avi and Zach are using Green’s own money to loan out, and are using him to literally hand the cash over. It’s a terrible thing to do to a gambler in love with his winnings, and something Green spends a great deal of time talking to himself about.
The first thing you’ll notice about “Revolver” is the lack of cinematic tricks employed by Ritchie this time around. For those weaned on “Barrels” and “Snatch”, the overall lack of slow-motion, bullet-time, and other assorted editing gimmicks in “Revolver” will seem almost unnatural. “Revolver” is clearly an attempt by Ritchie to shake his own image, although the script (also written by Ritchie) would seem to indicate that this is, nevertheless, still very much a “Guy Ritchie movie”. Quirky and eccentric gangsters? Check. A long list of major characters? Check. Intertwining plots that make no sense until explained by movie’s end? Check.
Alas, things take a major tumble in the last act, when the film becomes surreal and incomprehensible, and the script seems written by a completely different person. In fact, what transpires late in the film would fit more with a psychological thriller or even a horror movie, but certainly not a film where a casino gangster walks around in playboy briefs showing his package to the world. It’s as if Ritchie couldn’t figure out where to take the movie after the hour mark, so just decided to cram in all the esoteric and New Age junk he had gathered up in his travels. It’s all very unwieldy, not to mention derivative of “Fight Club” and “The Usual Suspects”, from which Ritchie liberally cribs whole sections of dialogue and only changing a word or two. And if you can’t figure out the true identities of Avi and Zach after about 30 minutes, this world has no need of your ilk.
At this point in their respective careers, it could very well be that Jason Statham is doing Guy Ritchie a favor by taking the lead in “Revolver”. Permanently swathed in an unsightly beard, Statham is barely recognizable from his other roles, and he certainly doesn’t get to do any of the things that made his star rise considerably over the last few years. I.e. no action scenes for Jason; not even a fist fight, if memory serves. Although I think he did get to fire a gun early in the film. For the most part Statham’s Green gets to walk around, sit around, and drive around listening to people talk, and occasionally talk himself. By film’s end, one almost wonders what was the point of even having a Jake Green character, as he does almost nothing of interesting throughout. Although I suppose the existence of Jake is necessary, since everyone gets to keep calling him “Mister Green” about a gazillion times for some odd reason.
And it’s exactly because Statham’s Green gets to do so little of anything that matters, or is mildly interesting (we don’t even see him gamble, something he’s supposed to be a master of), the rest of the cast has to supply everything. Ray Liotta is mostly hilarious as Macha, but like the film itself, his crime boss devolves into little more than a mouthpiece for Ritchie to indulge in more faux existential musings. Andre Benjamin (“Four Brothers”) is convincing as one half of the mysterious loan shark duo, although Vincent Pastore is basically playing yet another clich’d Italian gangster in sweat pants. The best character in the movie is Mark Strong as Macha’s deadly (and predictably a tad eccentric) hitman. Too bad he doesn’t get nearly enough screentime.
It’s not hard to see why “Revolver” had such trouble finding a distributor. It fails on most levels, and while it delivers on some elements of “a Guy Ritchie film”, it flounders more often than it succeeds. The film’s last act, in particular, sinks the film under its own bloated pointlessness. What could have been enjoyed as a semi-decent Ritchie gangster effort is instead torpedoed by 30 minutes of internal ramblings by various characters and some painful New Age mumbo jumbo. It really is incredible just how bad “Revolver” eventually gets, and is surely one of those things where you have to see for yourself to believe.
Guy Ritchie (director) / Guy Ritchie (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Statham …. Jake Green
Ray Liotta …. Macha
Andr’ Benjamin …. Avi
Vincent Pastore …. Zach
Ricky Grover …. Hamish
Vincent Riotta …. Benny
Mark Strong …. Sorter
Tom Wu …. Lord John