Released more than two years ago in the director’s native England, Guy Ritchie’s Revolver finally limps into U.S. theaters about 10 minutes shorter and certainly no more comprehensible, despite a parade of supposed psychiatric experts (including Deepak Chopra!) explaining the movie’s central metaphor directly to the camera right before the end credits roll. It’s easy to blame his marriage to the Kabbalah-obsessed Madonna for Ritchie’s trip straight off the deep end, but the assured forcefulness of the mumbo jumbo he peddles in Revolver points to a far more endemic problem: Maybe he actually believes this bullshit.
And to call pre-Madonna Ritchie promising is a bit of an overstatement anyway; his first two features, 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch, were Brit glosses on the Quentin Tarantino literate-crooks formula, with lots of fancy camera moves and complicated plot twists but little that didn’t feel derivative or superficial. Perhaps as a response to accusations of being a style-over-substance filmmaker, Ritchie has packed Revolver with so much “substance” that it completely overwhelms his still somewhat charming style. Instead of a mildly amusing gangster movie, he’s made a horribly self-important gangster movie that fancies itself high art.
It’s not even much of a gangster movie. Ritchie favorite Jason Statham does his typical sardonic tough-guy bit as Jake Green, just released from prison after serving seven years on an unnamed charge. Like most movie gangsters just out of prison, Jake is after revenge; his target is unnaturally tan casino owner Dorothy (yes, Dorothy) Macha (Ray Liotta, really earning his paycheck), who screwed Jake over in some unspecified way that led to his time in the slammer. So far, so standard. But while plotting his revenge, Jake runs across two mysterious loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) who somehow know things that are about to happen to him before he does, and inform him that he has a rare blood disease and only three days to live. They offer to help Jake in some vague way if he will just give them all his money and do everything they say.
Notice that many of the plot elements are left unrevealed; we never find out why Jake was in prison or what Macha did to him or why Macha has such an intense rivalry with an Asian drug kingpin called Lord John. Ritchie’s past crime movies often suffered from a surfeit of details, but here it seems like he’s holding back from explaining the plot not to simplify things but because he’s far too busy having all the characters explain his ill-defined new-agey mysticism, either in endless voice-over (Jake’s inner monologue does not shut up) or in long, rambling speeches about the nature of the universe.
Like most lame-o head-trip movies, Revolver eventually posits the idea that (spoiler!) the whole thing is really taking place inside Jake’s mind, and that the characters are manifestations of different parts of his personality. What the esteemed Dr. Chopra explains at the end is that really what is much harder to overcome than gun-toting hitmen with superhuman hearing or maniacal casino moguls who can’t stop self-tanning is our own ego, man. Once Jake rids himself of his crippling self-awareness, all his gangster-related problems go away. It’s just like real life.
If only Ritchie had likewise rid himself of his own no doubt pop-star-bolstered ego, he might have realized that he was making the equivalent of Crank crossed with Waking Life (dig that random animated sequence). Then again, that’s probably exactly what he was going for. There you have it: Guy Ritchie, completely self-actualized maker of terrible movies.
Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Andre Benjamin, Vincent Pastore
Directed by Guy Ritchie