DIRECTING: 3 StarsACTING: 5 StarsCINEMATOGRAPHY: 4 StarsCASTING: 4 StarsIt’s taken ten years for Guy Ritchie to tap the badass and enigmatic London criminal underworld that worked so well in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998), but the director’s new incarnation of the subject, “RocknRolla,” is an exciting return to form. More than anything, the film relies on certain standout performances that capture the interplay between the seedy underbelly of the criminal underworld and its shiny fa??ade. A “Sin City”-like introduction sets the stage for periods of extreme violence, and a real-estate scam generating millions of pounds get the plot started. At the center of the action is Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), the established head mobster running the city. Adept at bribing the entire gamut of the London bureaucracy, Cole finds his status threatened by new players. In the beginning, he’s the figure one might conjure to personify the werewolf in the Warren Zevon tune. But Russian mobsters-and Cole’s own associates-bring him down to size. Wilkinson seamlessly assumes Cole’s cockney speech and bulldog-like expressions. Cole’s mannerisms and style are similar to Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello in “The Departed;” both are tied an old system, and both are, in the end, opportunists looking out only for themselves. Thandie Newton is superb as Stella, a coldly seductive accountant who has her hand in everyone’s pot. Her character explores the possibilities that beauty, manipulation, and access to power can promise. However, Ritchie fails to use Stella as much as he could; when she does appear, her debonair style is a welcome contrast to the thugs and low-lifes that dominate the film. A gritty Gerard Butler plays the street-smart Scottish mobster One-Two, whose sexual encounters with “Handsome’ Bob” highlight stereotypical gangster homophobia.Well-executed dick-in-mouth gestures say what words simply cannot. Johnnie Quid, played to a tee by Jamie Bower, is the unlikely protagonist: a crack-addled rock star, his theft of a prized painting thrusts him into gyre. His philosophical musings and intensity of character help keep the film rooted. A cigarette box, according to Quid, represents two things: on one side, regal lettering caters to the smoker’s illusions of grandeur, and the opposite side warns of death-but in plain, boring print. Who to believe?After he finishes speaking, Quid immediately asks his friend for a smoke. Two highly entertaining junkies-self-proclaimed friends of Quid-appear throughout the film, comically angering people with their antics. Through Quid, the film portrays the most disturbing aspects of drug addiction. The former musician is a shell of his former self once his lips hit the pipe. The narrative is necessary to provide a frame of reference, but sometimes Ritchie explains too much. By removing some of it and putting it back into the hands of the extremely able cast, he could have both strengthened the characters’ ties to each other and made for a smoother film. Ultimately, RocknRolla is a little long with a few too many characters, but those flaws can be ignored. Ritchie almost hits the nail on the head with fast action, a good story and just enough humor.