Moving Pictures
Mar 07, 2023, 06:27AM

Ritchie's Righteous Ruse

Guy Ritchie's 2020s streak continues with the lean caper Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.

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After a career that was up-and-down for its first two decades, director Guy Ritchie has settled into a groove the last few years, with a series of lean action-comedies, featuring a recurring company of actors led by Jason Statham.

Following The Gentlemen in 2019 and Wrath of Man in 2021, now there’s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, a Ritchie/Statham collaboration that brings back Ritchie veterans like Hugh Grant, Eddie Marsan, and Josh Hartnett, while adding Aubrey Plaza. The title may be unwieldy, its plot inconsequential, and its behind-the-scenes backstory bizarre, but Operation Fortune is an entertaining action romp.

The film gets right to the point: The handler of a British spy outfit (Cary Elwes) calls in Owen Fortune (Statham) for a new mission. Fortune’s usual computer-whiz sidekick has been poached by a rival team—whose presence is a running subplot throughout the film—so he’s replaced by Sarah Fidel (Plaza, who between flirting and ass-kicking, proves a perfect addition to the Ritchie ensemble). British rapper Bugzy Malone plays sharpshooter J.J., the fourth member of the team.

The mission has the team trying to stop the sale of a mysterious MacGuffin from one group of criminals to another, one that’s being brokered by wealthy arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, slathered in so much bronzer that it makes him look like a British Robert Evans.) Fortune decides the way to get to Simmonds is through his favorite movie star, the conceited and dim-witted Danny Francesco (Hartnett, enjoying the career revival that getting cast in Ritchie movies has afforded him). Grant is a joy as the main heavy, playing a different type of villain role than his memorable turn in Paddington 2.

In what’s likely a dig at the Bond franchise, there’s a running joke of Statham bickering with his boss Elwes (and his boss’ boss Eddie Marsan) over the agency’s seemingly unlimited budget for travel, private jets, vacations and wine. The plot crisscrosses the globe, although most of Operation Fortune was filmed in Turkey. A trip to “Los Angeles” never leaves the plane, while the “Cannes” sequence is entirely on a boat, although the film’s best action sequence does make fine use of one town in Turkey.

I enjoyed the banter among the actors and the action scenes, which more than made up for not especially caring about the smuggling plot, or any of the characters involved on the buying or seller side. Originally set to come to theaters in early 2022, Operation Fortune was abruptly pulled last February with little explanation, and reports at the time said it was because a group of villains were established as Ukrainian, which looked questionable around the time of Russia’s invasion. Also, somewhere along the way, Lionsgate grabbed the film from STX. I’m not privy to what was in the script originally, but in the version of the film I saw, there’s no indication of those characters’ nationality or why it might matter, and overall the plot of the film is pretty significantly far afield from anything involving geopolitics.

There are a few missteps. That title is terrible. Like The Gentleman, Operation Fortune includes a strange reference to Harvey Weinstein, which is likely some kind of in-joke related to the film being produced by the zombie, post-Weinstein incarnation of Miramax. And a joke at the end of the film makes text out of something that would better have been left as subtext. But overall, Operation Fortune is worth the year-plus wait.


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