TORONTO - Crime just never stops paying for Guy Ritchie.
With "RocknRolla," writer-director Ritchie returns to the sort of gangster tale that shot him to fame with "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch," presenting a big, boisterous ensemble of lovable low-lifes doing anything they can to score a buck or rub out an enemy.
While Ritchie stumbled with his last two flicks — the romantic remake "Swept Away" starring his wife, Madonna, and the gambling thriller "Revolver" — "RocknRolla" has the kind of manic energy that made audiences fall for the rogues of his earlier films.
"I suppose the middle class is quite interested in what the subclass of crime is up to, because they're often very creative and stay outside the conventional framework that we all operate in. That's always titillating," Ritchie said Thursday, before the film's premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. "RocknRolla" opens Friday in Great Britain and on Oct. 8 in the United States.
"RocknRolla" spins a dense web of heists, betrayals, land schemes and political payoffs involving London and Russian mob bosses, small-time hoods, a plotting accountant and a strung-out punk rocker. The cast includes Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Tom Wilkinson and Idris Elba.
Newton, who plays the ice-queen accountant whose conniving sets everyone at one another's throats, said the crime world offers Ritchie an ideal canvas for his brand of energetic tale.
"It's up for grabs. Anything goes for a creative person, for a storyteller. It's a great place. It's like a microcosm of the whole universe," Newton said. "Because there are no rules, well, there are rules definitely, but because there's no one way to do anything, you do whatever you need to do to get that person snuffed out or to get that money. People are much more creative in how they do things, so it kind of allows for just an artistry that's entertaining."
Ritchie, who turns 40 on Wednesday, was promoting "RocknRolla" in North America while wife Madonna continued her concert tour in Europe. Though the two are apart, Ritchie was quick to dismiss rumors that the relationship was on the rocks.
"Oh, please. They've been speculating whether we've been getting divorced I think almost since we got married," Ritchie said. "The same can be said as to whether she's pregnant or whether we're adopting another child. I think that's just the nature of gossip."
"Everything seems fine," Ritchie said of his marriage. "As far as I'm aware."
Ritchie and Madonna drew jeers from critics for "Swept Away," an update of Lina Wertmuller's acclaimed saga about a pampered society dame stuck on an island with a communist sailor.
"Swept Away" barely saw the light of day in theaters, but Ritchie stands by the film, saying he has no regrets about making it. The baggage that comes with his wife's superstardom may have muddied its reception, Ritchie said.
"`Swept Away' is exactly the movie I wanted to make. I think people missed the irony of it. It was supposed to be a commentary on political correctness, but sort of Madonna seemed to have gotten in the way," Ritchie said. "But if you look at it, no one was making anything like that. It was revoltingly honest in its approach toward the masculine and feminine dynamic. I found it very amusing, and I like it as a movie."
Next up for the British filmmaker is a different brand of crime tale with "Sherlock Holmes," a new interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mysteries, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the brilliant London detective.
Ritchie has an affinity for Holmes dating back to childhood.
"One of the schools I went to was a boarding school. If we shut up, behaved ourselves at night, they used to play us a Sherlock Holmes story through the speakers. They used to pipe them down to us," Ritchie said. "I suppose I've had an affection for Sherlock Holmes ever since then."
Dropping out of school at 15, Ritchie spent a decade bumming around in "all sorts of shenanigans" before working his way into show business directing commercials and music videos.
Madonna is following her husband into filmmaking, with her directing debut, "Filth and Wisdom," due in theaters a couple of weeks after "RocknRolla." Her film centers on a Ukrainian cross-dressing punk-rocker and his roommates, a ballerina-turned-stripper and a humanitarian pharmacist.
Ritchie said Madonna did not seek any advice from him, and he did not volunteer any.
"With filmmaking, I think it's one of those things you should not read books on. You should just get on and do it. Then you have your own voice."
And how's his wife as a filmmaker?
"I think she's pretty good," Ritchie said.