So this is Guy Ritchie’s big comeback? Huh. This is the same director we were so excited about back in 1998? Are you sure? Ten years later this kind of cockney gangster tale feels so stale. While Ritchie was busy being Madonna’s handbag, we’ve been inundated with films starring London villains wrapped up in complicated wheeling’s and dealings. Now that he’s finally broken free from Madge’s vice grip, he’s decided to go back to his stylistic, Kaballah-free roots. But time has moved on without him it seems. Despite a valiant effort, the once-groundbreaking wunderkind has slid into mediocrity.

RocknRolla is far from bad – let me get that out of the way first. There are certainly a couple of sequences that make it worth it worth renting. The thing is, Ritchie seems intent to muddle things up for the audience. Our narrator Archie (the menacingly likable Mark Strong) begins the film by explaining the real estate purchases of crime boss Lenny Cole (Wilkinson), and the series of events that leave a ragtag group of thieves known as The Wild Bunch indebted to him. At least, I think that’s what is explained. The opening few minutes are so rapid-fire and head-scratching by the end of it you’re not even sure who owes who.

At this point of the review, I should really be informing you of the plot. I wish I could. I really, really do. But I can honestly say I don’t know what the plot is. It’s hard enough to follow during the movie and it’s insanely difficult to recall on reflection. Even scanning the Wikipedia page is giving me a headache – I had an easier time surmising the plot of Watchmen. So here’s what you need to know:

Lenny Cole accidentally loses a painting that belongs to an ominous Russian property dealer. He needs it back for a multi-million dollar deal to go through. Cole’s estranged stepson, crack-addled rock star Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) is suspected of stealing the painting, but is currently missing, presumed dead. Meanwhile, the Russian’s accountant (Newton) plots with Wild Bunch members One Two (Butler) and Mumbles (The Wire’s Idris Elba) to steal money from her employer. I think.

The good news is that despite the film’s incomprehensibility, it does provide a pretty good time. If you are looking to distract yourself for a couple of hours, you could do much worse than with RocknRolla. The cast are insanely watchable, particularly the affably charming Scot Gerard Butler. Tom Wilkinson has a great time, hamming it up like his life is on the line. Even cameos from Jeremy Piven and Ludacris are welcome.

The big problem here is the narrative – it’s not the wild camerawork that makes you queasy, it’s the zigzagging story. There are times when the plot is put aside to feature a great action sequences (in fact, it has one of the greatest on-screen robberies I’ve seen in a long time). But when Ritchie tries to show us how clever his movie is, he fails miserably. I suppose things could be worse – for a while there it seemed like we may have lost him forever. I’d rather watch Ritchie work his way back to the top then see him act as Madonna’s footstool.