Producers: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Bill Block Director: Guy Ritchie Screenplay: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies Cast: Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Josh Hartnett, Cary Elwes, Bugzy Malone, Hugh Grant, Peter Ferdinando, Eddie Marsan, Lourdes Faberes, Max Bessley, Oliver Maltman, Tom Rosenthal, Bestemsu Özdemir, Kaan Urgancıoğlu and Tim Seyfi Distributor: Lionsgate
More in the mode of Guy Ritchie’s mainstream Hollywood movies than the edgier early ones he returned to with “The Gentlemen,” the cumbersomely titled “Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre” is a slick but old-fashioned spy extravaganza weighed down by an uncharismatic lead turn and a plot no cleverer than the title. It comes off as a weak parody of a genre that’s already been parodied to death.
The titular Fortune is Orson Fortune (Jason Statham, as stone-faced as he has ever been), an operative for Britain’s MI6, and a particular favorite of Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes, who seems to be doing a take on James Fox), a smooth lieutenant to agency head Knighton (Eddie Marsan). Jasmine picks Fortune as the linchpin of the crew he assembles to recover something incredibly important—a thingamajig (read MacGuffin) called simply The Handle, which has been stolen and is being offered on the black market for $10 billion. The other members of the team are J.J. Davis (Bugzy Malone), sharpshooter par excellence, and Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), a computer whiz who can also double as an alluring femme fatale as needed.
The crew’s first attempt to lift the briefcase carrying The Handle from a courier is foiled by a rival team headed by Fortune’s in-house nemesis, surly Mike (Peter Ferdinando, somewhat like a poor man’s Brendan Gleeson), which leads to a decision to infiltrate a charity function being hosted on his lavish yacht by Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), the billionaire dealer in black market goods who’s acting as broker-middleman in the transaction, where they will tap into his devices. But to get close to Simmonds they recruit Hollywood superstar Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), an actor with whom he’s utterly obsessed; Danny’s dragooned into attending the party with Sarah playing his girlfriend in hopes that Simmonds will try to hit on her, and Fortune impersonating his rather implausible manager.
Their success is only partial, since the name of the buyer (as well as the exact nature of the gizmo being purchased) remain secret. But Danny’s presence leads Simmonds to invite him, Sarah and Orson to his estate in Turkey, where the final arrangements for the transfer will be made. Much cloak-and-dagger stuff follows, involving not just the lead players but Simmonds’ suspicious aides, lawyer Ben Harris (Max Bessley) and housekeeper Emilia (Lourdes Faberes). Eventually the nature of The Handle is revealed, along with the identity of its purchasers and the use to which they intend to put it; and there’s naturally a culminating confrontation between Fortune and Big Mike.
Statham handles that, as he does all the fights strewn throughout the movie, with cheerless efficiency; the script makes a halfhearted attempt to endow Fortune with a few character traits—he’s irked by being called in to earn his keep, preferring long spells of vacation time, and he has a love of the finest wines—but Statham remains robotic even when delivering a mediocre bit of banter. Most of the cast do little but go through the motions, too.
But the picture does have a number of ingratiating performers. One is Plaza, who puts her penchant for snappy repartee to good use even when the repartee is not so snappy. Another is Harnett, who does an engaging riff on the pampered, preening but insecure star. But by far the best is Grant, who’s simply delicious as the silkily greedy Simmonds, whose every moment is invested with connivance and one-upmanship. If Elwes is mimicking Fox, and doing a pretty good job of it, Grant is channeling Michael Caine at his most villainous, and doing a better one. He’s great fun to watch from his very first scene, but it’s especially at the end, when Francesco has become enraptured with the billionaire’s gleeful chicanery, that Grant’s interaction with Hartnett becomes a comic delight. (Wait for the end-credits scene, too.)
It’s almost worth watching “Operation Fortune” for these three, but unfortunately Statham gets in the way, as does the plot, which runs down feebly in the second half, closing with a revelation of the guilty parties and a silly world-takeover scheme that would have made even Ian Fleming’s worst imitators blanch. The MacGuffin is a bust, and the villains too.
Still, even when Grant, Hartnett and Plaza are off-screen, you can enjoy the settings, from Cannes to Turkey, as well as Martyn John’s production design, both luxuriously used by cinematographer Alan Stewart. Tina Kalivas’ costumes—especially for Plaza—are lovely, too. One might wish, though, that Ritchie had expended some of his old inventiveness in choreographing the action sequences, including those involving a cherry-red Mustang, and that editor James Herbert had done his job with a bit more verve as well; this “Operation” runs along like a smoothly-oiled machine, but it rarely raises your pulse rate, despite the hard-working Christopher Benstead score.
One doesn’t want to be too hard on the movie, whose release was postponed for a year (reportedly because some of the villains were Ukrainian) until it was acquired by Lionsgate from the original distributor, STX Entertainment. And it would be a pity to miss Grant’s marvelous turn. But it’s just a middle-grade action comedy that makes you recall better ones.