Where does Guy Ritchie end and Madonna begin? It's a question posed, and perhaps answered, by Ritchie's film Revolver, one of the most ill-conceived cinematic experiments in recent memory. The movie, which has finally arrived in the U.S. two years after flopping in Great Britain, is an unlikely hybrid of Ritchie's trademarked cockney gangsterism (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Snatch) and his wife's Kabbalah Centre psychobabble, and it is a child only a parent could love.
Indeed, Ritchie himself essentially admitted as much in a pre-release statement that is either the worst sales job of all time or a diabolically clever bit of expectations management: "Please don't be angry with me. People often get upset with me after seeing Revolver. I've never felt the vitriol that I have on this movie in anything else I've ever done. People don't understand it, and they think I'm responsible for that. It's not going to make me popular, it's not going to help me make a living, but I found it rewarding." Well, thank goodness for that.
Ritchie's laboriously metaphorical plot tells the tale of one Jake Green (Jason Statham), a con artist and gambler just out of prison after seven years. What exactly he did to get there is a little hazy--a recut the film sustained following its poor reception across the pond seems to have dispensed with most of the back story--but now that he's out, he has a score to settle with a gang boss named Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), whose exceptionally unpleasant attitude is presumably the result of a serious boy-named-Sue syndrome.
Green shows up at Macha's casino to humiliate him and take his money. Macha responds by ordering a hit on Green, but our hero is saved by two mysterious loan sharks, Zach (The Sopranos's Vincent Pastore) and Avi (OutKast's Andre Benjamin), who have other plans for him. There are a few subsequent flashes of Ritchiesque violence, and gunfire is exchanged periodically, but a great deal of the movie consists of Green, in voiceover, and others offering up a series of tough-guy proverbs: "The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory"; "You'll always find a good opponent in the very last place you'd look"; "There is something about yourself that you don't know, something you will deny to yourself."
Gradually, one begins to suspect that this movie thinks it has Something Important to Say and, unfortunately, it does. (A spoiler follows, though trust me, this is something you'll want to know before deciding to shell out your eight bucks.) As the film progresses, Green's homily-spouting voiceover becomes ever more intrusive before ultimately blossoming into a full-blown attack of schizophrenia in which he bickers, Gollum-like, with his own dark side in a stopped elevator. The lesson, you see, is that his only real enemy is his ego, and not the fellow with the gun waiting outside the elevator to kill him.
And, indeed, when the doors open the anticipated showdown is less climax than coda, as the newly enlightened Green strolls right past his would-be assailant, who is paralyzed by his own insecurities. For viewers thick (or incredulous) enough not to get the message, Ritchie helpfully provides, as the credits roll, a series of brief psycho-spiritual testimonials in which luminaries such as Leonard Jacobson and Deepak Chopra explain, "The ego is the worst confidence trickster, because we don't see it."
Yes, in the end it turns out that this inept and peculiar film has all been one long advertisement for Kabbalah. (For those in the know, it is evidently packed with inside references: "Green," for instance, is not merely the protagonist's surname, but apparently also a color associated with the "central column" spiritual energies, or something like that.) Ritchie's pitch may prove persuasive to other megamillionaire pop-diva husbands with too much time on their hands, but for the rest of us it's about as compelling a brief for Kabbalah as Battlefield Earth was for scientology. Revolver is a dreadful, dreadful movie, interesting only insofar as such glimpses into terrible judgment sometimes are. My advice? Treat it like your ego, and don't see it.
This post originally appeared at TNR.com