Purple penetrator

Guy Ritchie reaches -- and reaches -- for his Revolver

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Being rich and famous dupes so many into thinking they have profound life wisdom that must be shared. Is it simple narcissism? Is it that when material desires are fulfilled too easily, spirituality becomes the top high-end item left to acquire?

Guy Ritchie may do stupid things, like remaking Lina Wertmüller's reactionary-in-1974 Swept Away as a 2002 vehicle for his wife, Madonna, whose acting kills entire movies on contact. But he's also clever, at least regarding surfaces. Yet there's usually nothing beneath them, unless in-joke movie references count as deep. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch (2000) are deliriously, obnoxiously showy exercises in hyperworked camera, editing, and soundtrack. Their affectedly cool 'tude is wrought of pissing-contest testosterone, compiled genre clichés, and Ritchie's training in music videos and TV commercials. Love 'em or leave 'em, these movies are elaborate toys for boys, their pulp roots elevated to artier status by Brit exoticism and a big bag of stylistic tricks. Tricks, you'll recall, are for kids.

After those samey successes and one stinging flop, Ritchie was ripe to expand his range. He and Madonna developed as sentient beings too, what with childbearing and third world adoption and all that kabbalah stuff.

Yet one wonders: has spiritual evolution given Ritchie more depth as an artist? Merely considering the question hurts.

Ritchie's latest movie, Revolver, premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival to howls of derision. More than a year later, it's here, and — like Richard Kelly's similarly dissed, delayed, and recut Southland Tales — it's still terrible. Not just because it's an unsalvageable mess, but also because it's an expression of ersatz profundity that confirms a shallow intellect. This being Ritchie, his big stab at insight regarding the human condition arrives as a hyperstylized gangster movie, albeit with less smug jokiness than before and a stinking new pantsload of pretension.

Ritchie's usual muse Jason Statham plays Jake Green, just released from seven years in prison and eager to avenge himself on the casino kingpin (Ray Liotta) who put him there. He signs on with nasty loan sharks Vincent Pastore and André Benjamin, who promise to abet his vengeance — but at a high price. Soon everyone wants to kill Jake, but he kills them instead. It's all just bullet-riddled bodies flying through space. Senseless as a thriller, Revolver could be enjoyed for its textural luxuriance — Ritchie does have a gift for constructing dynamic scene-by-scene aesthetics — if not for the paralyzing pomposity that hitches onto this empty cargo train.

Revolver is so transparently about nothing that its final revelations become inadvertent punch lines at the auteur's expense. We're told "the ultimate con" is the ego, Jake's own "worst enemy" his bad-boy self. That's before the epilogue. (Warning: it involves Deepak Chopra.) There isn't enough pot in the world to make such quasi-philosophical wankery provoke the intended whoa.

The idea of Ritchie liberating himself from the trap of ego is contradicted by every frame of this self-consciously flashy and vain movie. Revolver inhabits a fantasy man's-man world. It's a painful example of wannabe mysticism — riddled with kabbalah and numerological references — and it's exactly as enlightened about women as a mid-'60s James Bond flick. Female cast members are displayed mute, surgically enhanced, open mouthed, and variably unclad, like porn models. The sole older woman (Francesca Annis) is a retro lesbian-sadist caricature modeled on Lotte Lenya in 1963's From Russia with Love.

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