Guy Ritchie has spent the most recent stretch of his career making passable yet somewhat anonymous and, frankly, lacking action pictures. Following the bungled Aladdin live action film for Disney, which I don’t think was necessarily Ritchie’s fault (he wasn’t the right choice for the material to begin with), he has been trying to get back to the brand of film that made him a name in the first place.
The Gentlemen was fine but not my bag. Wrath of Man has some nice sequences but is repetitive and drab. This time out, Ritchie goes for a sprawling, international espionage thriller — he’s trying for a James Bond or Mission: Impossible vibe.
The film opens with your standard issue “gathering up the usual suspects” routine. Two government bureaucrats (Cary Elwes and Eddie Marsan) discuss the crew for their next important job — something involving hard drives and billionaire playboys, the details really aren’t all that important. Elwes travels to Morocco to tap on Orson Fortune (Jason Statham, and yes, that’s his character’s name), who is on paid vacation. Fortune reluctantly agrees to lead a crew (made up of Aubrey Plaza, Bugzy Malone, and, later, Josh Hartnett playing a Hollywood star) on a globe-trotting mission.
Globe-trotting, that is, in the sense that the first half of the film takes place in Spain but is clearly shot elsewhere. The first 40 minutes of the film takes place in hotel rooms, airports, airplanes, and boats. It is all very restrictive, reducing the sprawling scope of the film’s premise to something more vacuum-sealed. It is only in the second half, when the crew moves operations to Turkey (which was shot on location), that the world of the film opens up and obtains a feeling of tangibility.
It doesn’t help any that the first half of the film is consistently brightly lit. No matter the mood or the setting, everything is lit perfectly. Everyone is bathed in warm, flattening light, and it makes entire sequences visually boring. At the very least, this is preferable to not being able to see anything at all.
As for what is in frame during these sequences, the action is touch and go. For the most part, it is all competently choreographed, but until the final third it is also lacking in the grand scale that the premise promises. The final 20 minutes, on the other hand, contain a handful of really great shots. One car chase sequence, in particular, stands out as the best directed piece of action in the film.
This final 20 minutes would be worth the wait, if Ritchie’s script was not so flat and lacking in charisma. It is a tough watch to see Plaza do everything in her power to sell her spotty, would-be clever dialogue. The members of this crew do not have great chemistry, given their subpar repartee. The saving graces in this regard are Hartnett and Hugh Grant. The pair work off of each other well and are far and away the best performances.
For all of its fast-talking plotiness and attempts at witty humor, Operation Fortune lacks the vim and vigor of a grand-scale action comedy. The story is continuously moving, propelled by constant exposition such that the film never has a moment to breathe. But instead of this translating into a breathlessly exciting experience, the film trucks through this exposition with minimal fanfare and only occasionally eye-catching action.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre: C
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)