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Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre

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Were it not for the presence of Hugh Grant, Guy Ritchie’s awkwardly titled international crime thriller Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre would be easily forgotten. It is not in any sense a bad film’”it is actually quite entertaining for the most part, even as it is clearly assembled from parts of many vastly better films’”but it is not a particularly memorable one. There are slams and bangs and funny lines of dialogue, but you forget what you just saw from scene to scene. The script by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies (who also collaborated on Ritchie’s two most recent films, 2019’s The Gentlemen and 2021’s Wrath of Man) is a functional assemblage of action and comedy that provides some necessary dashes of wit to fill in the gaps between big shoot-outs and car chases and lavish depictions of the billionaire lifestyle, but it never quite transcends anything expected. It does precisely what you would anticipate it will do and little more.

The film draws heavily on the kind of globe-hopping Euro-style action thrillers that were particularly popular in the 1960s and ’70s, best epitomized by the James Bond franchise. All the ingredients are there’”extravagant locations, fast shiny cars, high couture, and lots of guns and explosions’”and Ritchie stirs and mixes as needed, although it is largely devoid of his signature hyperkinetic style. It is almost as if Ritchie felt compelled to reach back into the old-school playbook, which dictates a more restrained approach to camera movement and editing and eschews the kind of over-the-top, postmodern dynamism that first put Ritchie on the cinematic map with films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), and Revolver (2005). He has since expanded his range into some seemingly unlikely terrain, including the medieval drama King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and the live-action version of Disney’s musical fantasy Aladdin (2019), although recent years have found him moving back toward the kind of meat-and-potatoes, machismo action films that his fans demand.

Jason Statham, in his fifth collaboration with Ritchie, headlines the cast as Orson Fortune (egad, that name!), a private contractor recruited by British spy Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) to lead a hand-picked set of Mission: Impossible-style recruits to retrieve a very important billion-dollar Macguffin known as ‘œthe Handle,’ which is stolen in the film’s opening sequence. Joining Orson is Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), a witty computer hacker who is always on hand to bring some female levity to the otherwise male-centric proceedings, and JJ (Bugzy Malone), another well-dressed spy-for-hire. Central to their plan is the inclusion of Danny Francesco (Josh Harnett), a narcissistic movie star who eventually finds that playing spy is his greatest role, and they are often thwarted in their efforts by Mike (Peter Ferdinando), a rogue agent who is after the same Macguffin and always seems to be one step ahead.

And then there is Grant, the formerly foppish every(British)man hero of so many 1990s romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999) who has traded his endearing awkwardness for the smarmy-slick jet-set criminality of Greg Simmonds, an arms dealer that Orson and company suspect will be the buyer of the Handle. Decked out in billionaire loungewear and yellow-tinted glasses reminiscent of James Spader’s Red Reddington, Greg is the Cockney-accented arms-dealing lothario to end all arms-dealing lotharios, Cockney or otherwise. Despite the fact that he exists in a complete moral vacuum, you can’t help but admire his forthrightness and unapologetic candor. It helps that Grant has such natural charm, and he looks completely at ease in Greg’s skin, which makes you want to buy into a character who is otherwise a fantastical conceit. Everyone else in Operation Fortune gets their moment, but Grant is the one who rightly steals the show.

Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick

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