Guy Ritchie’s latest doesn’t exactly work, but the likes of Hugh Grant and Aubrey Plaza will keep most viewers from noticing.
Filmmaker Guy Ritchie’s career is a bizarre one. Sure, plenty of “name” directors have diverse filmographies. Ritchie’s fellow contemporary, Danny Boyle, for example, directed one of the most recognizable independent films of all time in Trainspotting, an instant zombie classic in 28 Days Later, the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, and the painful Yesterday to rattle off a few. Still, for serious randomness, it’s hard to beat a lineup that includes the deadly serious revenge film Wrath of Man, the tongue-in-cheek crime caper The Gentlemen, the live-action remake of Aladdin, and the atrocious reinterpretation of Arthurian legend, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. And those are just his previous four movies.
So when one says it was impossible to know what precisely the oft-delayed Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre might deliver, it is not hyperbole. Ritchie has such a track record of being all over the genre and quality map. Every visit to the cinema can provide a surprise.
Thankfully, Operation Fortune is mostly a welcome one, far more like his (problematic) kick of a film Gentlemen than those other films. Admittedly, it’s nowhere near the films of his heyday—Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch—but there are worse fates than a fun time at the theatre.
The Grant of It All
It’s unfair to say that the best move of Ritchie’s career has been bringing Hugh Grant into his troupe. After all, the writer-director helped usher the likes of Jason Statham (the lead of this film) and Vinnie Jones onto the big screen. Plus, this is only the third Grant and Ritchie collaboration.
All those caveats acknowledged, Grant is undoubtedly the best choice Ritchie has made in the past decade.
Grant, always effortlessly charming but often resentful of his early “sweet cute guy” niche, has embraced middle age and the chance to play decidedly less pleasant characters. Unlike early attempts like Extreme Measures, his more recent morally grey roles have fit him like a well-tailored suit. Whether hamming it up in the insta-classic Paddington 2 or giving sleazy-curdled political mediocrity in A Very English Scandal, Grant has been doing some of the best work of his career as of late.
In Operation Fortune, as he did with Ritchie in The Gentlemen, he’s taking full advantage of the situation to turn in a performance rich with grimy charisma. Another of pop culture’s recent evil billionaires, his arms dealer Greg Simmonds is all delicious id. Additionally, Grant doesn’t hesitate to make Simmonds silly and fanboyish. His thrill at meeting his favorite actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), is a wonderful mix of trying to impress someone and being too excited to land it.
Simply put, Operation Fortune is never better than when Grant is on-screen.
The Rest of The Mission Team
This isn’t to say the film is a one-person operation. Statham is in his element, playing superspy Orson Fortune as a severe man who can’t suppress his desire to play his superior officers like Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes). It isn’t as silly fun as his work in Spy, but it’s a fair bit bouncier than his character from the dire serious Wrath of Man.
Aubrey Plaza proves once again that she can make nearly anything work. Hamstrung by some of the film’s worst writing, she nevertheless drags much of it into funny territory. For example, check out her line reading of “sexually” in the trailer. It gives you a good idea of how she takes some truly lousy dialogue and injects it with enough weirdness to make it work.
Hartnett is a latecomer to the “knowing self-mockery” game that so many former and near superstars have played over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, he’s not 100% successful at it. In some moments, you can feel his itchiness at playing the fool. Still, there’s enough good to convince you that Hartnett deserves a second act as a character actor. Given he once starred in one of the ugliest pieces of cinema ever, 40 Days and 40 Nights, that’s honestly quite impressive.
It’s the Plot That’s the Problem
Here’s the downside of Operation Fortune—it’s not especially interesting from a plot perspective. A Frankenstein of a story cobbled together from pieces of other films—you can feel its Bond yearnings, the central device everyone wants is essentially the same as the one from The 355—it lacks a unique hook. Even the whole “we’ll use an actor” has been done before. Viewers may recall last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent had Nic Cage pull that trick with far wilder and mind-bending results.
Still, great action scenes and good villains can overcome a mountain of clichés. Alas, Ritchie fumbles the ball on both.
Statham is enough of a special effect on his own that the action sequences are not devoid of some crackle. However, for the first time, Ritchie’s action directing feels slightly slower, a little out of rhythm. It isn’t as egregious a stumble as, say, Michael Bay’s 6 Underground, but it elicits some of the same “oh, current stylistic filmmaking is passing him by” feelings.
Worse are the villains. The Ukrainian gangsters are one-note and anonymous. Fortune’s rival Knighton (Eddie Marsan) ends up criminally wasted with only one stand-out moment. Even the Mission: Impossible films recognize that even the most charismatic of stars need someone noteworthy to lock horns with.
Operation Fortune’s shortcomings do kneecap it. Action comedies need that action to deliver. Nonetheless, when the film doesn’t have a gun in its hand, it is so sure on its feet, and silver-tongued one can forgive many of its failures. Here’s hoping Ritchie and Grant make a bunch more crime-tinged comedies and that the stunt setpieces prove better in the next go-round.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre takes aim in theatres March 3.
Rating: 6.5/10 SPECS
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.