Guy Ritchie is at it again with "Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre" an unexceptional comic action film that is closer in spirit to his recent heist flick, "Wrath of Man," and thankfully, less offensive than his execrable "The Gentlemen." (Next month promises "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant," which, to be clear, is billed as a two-part war thriller, not an agreement to stop making s**tty films.)
Ritchie seems to have an obsession with nuts in this film.
"Operation Fortune" opens competently with Nathan (Cary Elwes) being asked by Norman (Eddie Marsan) to assemble a team because, "Some heavily guarded cargo was ambushed outside of a facility in Johannesburg . . . and it has become extremely popular with the wrong sort of people." Nathan is tasked with retrieving what went missing as well as finding out "who is selling it, who is buying it and what it is." As Norman explains, this will be a "ruse de guerre," meaning Nathan must take an unorthodox and unconventional approach to recovering what has been called "The Handle," and he needs to hire an unofficial team to do this.
To this end, Nathan selects Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) who is arguably the best special agent he knows. Norman calls Orson an "administrative nightmare." Cue a series of unfunny running jokes about Orson overspending much to Nathan's barely concealed dismay. As Orson's team is assembled, he is paired with two "comprehensive footmen," Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and JJ (Bugzy Malone), both of whom are as adept with computer skills as they are with firearms. Sarah can also flirt and hold her own against Orson — as when she tells him she controls the turntables, and he controls the dance. Not bad for a girl, as she cheekily points out from time to time. (Credit Ritchie for his so-called feminism!)
Their first mission, which is to track a bagman with a suitcase in the Madrid airport is a nifty sequence, which gets the film off to a good start. It gives Statham a chance to use his muscle (and taser some goons in the nuts), while Sarah orchestrates the plan, pivoting shrewdly when plans go awry. While the team works well together, they encounter some unexpected trouble from Mike (Peter Ferdinando), Orson's rival who also seems to be hired for the same job.
Lourdes Faberes and Hugh Grant in "Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre" (Dan Smith/Lionsgate)"Operation Fortune," however, starts to flatline after this decent set up. The team learns that the deal for "The Handle" is being brokered by elusive billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, looking leathery and sounding like he is doing a Michael Caine impersonation). Simmonds has an obsession with movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) that is more of an "Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" kind of thing, and not sexual — though Danny did decline Greg's offer of $10 million to jump out of a cake and sing him happy birthday. (Give Ritchie credit for creating an image that isn't in the film but can't be unseen.)
As the team heads to Cannes to lure Greg with Danny at a charity event on a yacht, the film's wit and action hit their nadir. Danny tells an anecdote about testicular cancer that Greg finds funny and naughty. Nathan discovers Mike has a team on the yacht and childishly teases his rival about his unfaithful wife and his micro-penis. (Ritchie cannot resist his inner schoolboy.) Meanwhile, there is a painfully talky scene where Sarah stalls to buy time, and Orson engages in fisticuffs with one of Mike's ex-special forces that feels like a fight scene rehearsal. The entire extended sequence on the yacht lacks tension and excitement, and the film never quite recovers from this backstep.
Subsequent action scenes also feel slack. Orson burglarizes a house as a bit of misdirection to gain access to a computer and he "breaks a nose, cracks some ribs, and f**ks up some nuts" as he dispatches two security guards as he exits. (Ritchie seems to have an obsession with nuts in this film.) Even a chase scene through the picturesque streets of Ankara feels sluggish, as Orson pursues a man on foot before a death that happens largely off-screen. "Operation Fortune" feels lazy with its action set pieces that should get viewers' blood flowing but instead feel tiresome. The locations in this globe-hopping film may be more interesting than what transpires with the characters once they are there.
The cast also seems underused. Statham ... remains unflappable, which is why he charms as he disarms with his patented deadpanning and action moves.
As Greg arranges the buying and selling, the big dramatic climax involves shooting and chasing and helicopters and explosions and even a rocket launcher, but all of it comes off as lackluster. Moreover, this episode is edited in such a busy manner that enervated viewers may just wait it out to see who lives, who dies and how any double crosses play out. (Typical Ritchie.)
Ritchie never allows viewers to get invested in the characters or the story. Little seems to be much at stake even after the value of the MacGuffin, er "The Handle," is revealed to be something that could permanently alter the world forever. There is more of a threat from Mike and his crew than there is from anyone involved in the big deal, which may be one reason "Operation Fortune" underwhelms. There is never any palpable danger from the "wrong sort of people" that might rachet the tension level up to the point of caring.
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The cast also seems underused. Statham is less violent here than in previous Ritchie outings, but he remains unflappable, which is why he charms as he disarms with his patented deadpanning and action moves. Elwes provides a silky presence as Nathan, and Hartnett is terrific playing Danny as a dumb, vain and hyper-emotive actor. He is quite funny asking Greg how he felt going from a millionaire to a billionaire as part of his "research" for playing a role. But Hartnett disappears for long stretches, much to the film's detriment. In support, Bugzy Malone exudes cool as JJ, even though his character is a bit vague, and while Grant is appropriately smarmy in his role, he is painful to watch. Thankfully, Aubrey Plaza saves the film with her sassy turn as Sarah. Even when she overworks some crass jokes, Plaza amuses.
The passable "Operation Fortune" is criminally ho-hum because Ritchie fails to deliver on its potential.
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