‘Revolver’ hints at a better picture

Times Staff Writer

A head-trippin’ curio shelved for two years, “Revolver” is a grueling mash of criminal types and metaphysical dithering by British writer-director Guy Ritchie. The result is a film that’s main crime is inducing stupefying boredom with little payoff in the end.

With “Revolver,” Ritchie returns to the gangster genre that treated him so well in his first two films, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” But after literally being “Swept Away” by the disastrous reception accorded his ill-fated collaboration with his missus -- Madonna -- Ritchie unfortunately allows his reach to exceed his grasp in attempting to unravel the Game of Life.

The film, structured as a pseudo-cerebral chess match from which some pieces have definitely gone missing, stars Ritchie regular Jason Statham as Jake Green, a glowering rogue freshly released from seven years in solitary confinement. Armed with the knowledge gleaned from being incarcerated between an expert con man and a chess whiz -- neither of whom he ever saw or spoke with -- he sets his sights on exacting revenge on sleazy gambling mogul Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), for whom he took the fall.

Shortly after firing his first salvo at Macha, Jake collapses, is diagnosed with a rare blood condition and is given three days to live. He may not last that long, as Macha orders a hit on him by a usually dependable killer. But along comes a pair of underworld guardian angels, Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (Andre Benjamin), who make Jake one of those infamous offers that can’t be refused: They save his life and he gives them all his money.


Ritchie peppers the film with a series of quotations from Machiavelli, Julius Caesar and vintage chess and business manuals, endlessly repeating them in one form or another as clues. As convoluted as the film becomes with Jake’s mind-numbing narration and flashbacks looping back on one another, it’s not difficult to see where it’s all leading if you follow the quotes.

Because so much screen time is devoted to the psychological musings of Mr. Green, Ritchie is forced to unload a ton of clumsy exposition to deal with subplots such as Macha’s indebtedness to the all-powerful but unseen Mr. Gold (yes, there’s a bit of color-coded naming of characters going on, but alas, no Mr. Pink). At its best, the dialogue plays as counterfeit Mamet, at its worst, rejected fortune cookie aphorisms.

Luc Besson is credited as presenter, producer and “adapter,” though it’s unclear what it is he adapted. Set in an unnamed locale that suggests a generic Las Vegas relocated to the continent, the film does bear some of the slick Euro stylizing of Besson’s successful franchises but otherwise is more reflective of Ritchie’s current philosophical interests.

There are glimpses of a more entertaining movie -- such as when Sorter (Mark Strong), the previously reliable hit man, gets his groove back. But Strong pretty much walks away with his scenes, leaving us pining for the unmade film, “Sorter.”

“Revolver.” MPAA rating: R for violence, language and some nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In selected theaters.