The latest Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham joint disappoints on every level.
A misfire by any other name is still a misfire, and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, the latest brainchild from writer-director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), is nothing if not a misfire. It all starts with a lazily written, unimaginative, pastiche-ridden script Ritchie co-wrote with two of his frequent collaborators, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies (Wrath of Man, The Gentlemen). Crammed to overflowing with spy-thriller clichés, intentionally offensive attempts at provocation, and bored performers, including star Jason Statham, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre feels like nothing more than a time-waster for everyone involved.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre centers on the ridiculously named Orson Fortune (Statham), a super-spy who works as a private contractor for the British government through his longtime handler, Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes). Jasmine handles mission-related logistics, including Fortune’s specific set of demands, including a private plane, a well-stocked wine cabinet, and a healthy expense account. The latest existential threat involves a suitcase filled with a MacGuffin that’s left conveniently undefined until the second half of the film, but it’s more than enough for the British government to justify opening their checkbooks to finance the mission and recover the suitcase before it falls into the wrong hands.
Those hands belong to a billionaire arms dealer, Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, borrowing the tan, haircut, and attitude from his character in The Gentlemen). Simmonds hopes to increase his bank account by $10 billion by brokering the sale of the Great Whatsit to Eastern European mobsters who, in turn, may or may not be working for another, even more immoral and unethical buyer up the financial food chain. To get to Simmonds, however, means that not only do Fortune and Jasmine need a crack team of spies, they also need the unwitting cooperation of Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), one of the world’s biggest action stars who just happens to be Simmonds’s favorite all-time performer.
To get the initially recalcitrant Francesco on board with their latest world-saving mission, Jasmine and Fortune enlist the aid of Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), full-time computer genius and part-time arm candy, and JJ Davies (Bugzy Malone), back-up muscle and sharpshooter. While Jasmine and Davies hang back in a nondescript black van, Fortune and Fidel join Francesco: Fortune as his talent manager, Fidel as his girlfriend. A besotted Simmonds woes Francesco through a combination of stories about his dangerous profession and his knowledge of Francesco’s career. It doesn’t hurt that Simmonds purchased and restored one of Francesco’s favorite stunt cars, a cherry-red, pinstriped ‘60s-era Mustang.
Simmonds also flings his oily charms in Fidel’s general direction, but that seems less organic to the characters or plot than to give Plaza something to do during frequent lags. Simmonds’s horniness also doubles as a counter to any gay subtext related to his relationship, real or imagined, with Francesco. Ritchie and his collaborators surely thought that Simmonds certainly can’t be perceived as gay or bisexual if he spends half or more of his limited time onscreen licking his overly dry lips and trying to romance Fidel away from the seemingly clueless, easily flattered Francesco.
While familiar, Grant’s performance provides Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre with one of its few pleasures. Plaza stays firmly within her comfort zone (i.e., constant exasperation at the immature men around), Elwes adds just the right touch of smarm, charm, and arrogance to his role, and Hartnett, echoing Nicolas Cage’s similar role from last year, amiably stumbles through his lines and physical performance. Not surprisingly, Statham handles the action scenes with the typical detachment of similar characters he’s played over the last two decades, delivering barely functional dialogue with just enough sarcasm to keep audiences minimally engaged.
Modestly memorable performances and location porn aside, there’s little if anything else to recommend in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. It’s less a fully thought out narrative film than a reheated compendium of Ritchie and Statham’s greatest hits, hits that have have grown stale and tiresome with each repetition. By the time Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre hits its predictable action and dramatic beats in the final moments, audiences will be left asking, “Is that all there is?”
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre opens theatrically in North America on Friday, March 3rd.