Guy Ritchie has enjoyed an eclectic career that’s seen plenty of ups and downs – which comes with the territory when you’re responsible for both one of the worst films ever made and one of the biggest box office bombs in history through Swept Away and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword respectively – but Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre feels like the end result of what the filmmaker’s career has been building towards for the last few years.
The sorely underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proved that Ritchie was a dab hand when it came to wildly entertaining and preposterously-plotted tales of international espionage and intrigue, while The Gentlemen showcased that he hasn’t lost his knack for crafting propulsive crime thrillers packed full of creatively-worded insults, before Wrath of Man reunited him with former muse Jason Statham for the first time in a decade and a half.
Throw the three elements together – adding a dash of Hugh Grant once more playing against type in his third Ritchie vehicle using the same ridiculous accent he sported in The Gentlemen – and you’ve got the basic gist of Operation Fortune. The fact that the globetrotting adventure has been delayed by well over a year from its original January 2022 release date sounds like a cause for concern, but it’s heartening to discover that the restructuring of STX Entertainment really is to blame, because it’s a blast.
As you’d expect from an irreverent tale of deceit, double-crossing, and infiltration shot through with Ritchie’s signature anarchic streak, the broad strokes of the plot don’t really make a lick of sense, but that’s not really the point. The Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Sherlock Holmes architect’s work has largely been defined by slick style, witty asides, and a penchant for never stopping to catch breath, something that’s on display throughout almost every one of Ruse de Guerre‘s breezy 114 minutes.
The opening scene deals with the expositional heavy-lifting, where we find Cary Elwes’ stiff upper-lipped wine connoisseur and government agent Nathan Jasmine enlist the services of Statham’s elite operative Orson Fortune. In case you’re wondering if everyone in the film has such a wonderfully silly name, the answer is largely yes, as Aubrey Plaza’s Sarah Fidel, Josh Hartnett’s Danny Francesco, and Eddie Marsan’s Knighton can attest.
A plan is put in place to try and thwart the sale of deadly weaponry being orchestrated by Grant’s wildly exaggerated scenery-chewing billionaire Greg Simmonds. The crack team leverages adulterous blackmail to infiltrate the Cannes Film Festival with the help of Hartnett’s A-list movie star – of whom Simmonds is a massive fan – to try and retrieve a stolen device known as “The Handle” that’s capable of ruining the global economy without even having to think twice about it.
As mentioned previously, though, the narrative is nowhere near integral to either your understanding or enjoyment of Operation Fortune. Plaza sets the tone nicely for what’s to come when she’s introduced to our title hero by cracking a joke about not wanting to be peed on, which gives you an indication of how seriously Ritchie and his cast and crew are planning to treat the world-ending stakes at play in a continental criss-cross that ventures from Spain to Turkey via France and Qatar without ever coming close to taking itself remotely seriously.
One drawback is that the action sequences aren’t what you’d expect them to be, given Ritchie’s penchant for dizzying camera tricks and Statham’s well-earned reputation as one of the modern era’s most prominent action heroes. They’re fine for what they are, but when the two focal points of the storytelling are capable of so much better – as they’ve been demonstrating for decades – there’s a very good reason to be underwhelmed.
Speaking of Statham, the longtime ass-kicker luxuriates in getting to put a more suave and charming spin on his usual scowling shtick, which shouldn’t be a surprise when his comic timing has always gone unnoticed and unappreciated. The rest of the supporting cast pitch their performances to the level you’d expect of such an inherently ludicrous concept, but it’s nonetheless a touch disappointing that the promise of Aubrey Plaza: Action Hero largely goes unfulfilled.
There’s nothing earth-shattering, groundbreaking, or even particularly original about Ruse de Guerre, but that’s precisely why it delivers everything action junkies desire. Ritchie has gathered his friends, regular collaborators, and some new faces to simply make an old-school spy flick that doesn’t have any airs or graces about reinventing the wheel. In that respect, it has to be deemed as an absolute triumph, because that’s exactly what you get given by the time the credits come up, complete with the payoff for an earlier running gag.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre doesn’t have anything new to say, and in this instance, that’s no bad thing. Fast-paced, lightweight, and inoffensively entertaining, there’s definitely more than a few reasons to hope that the sequel-baiting ending doesn’t prove to be for nothing.
‘Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre’ delivers exactly what you’d expect from an R-rated Guy Ritchie spy caper with Jason Statham in the lead role, with the offbeat and energetic espionage adventure worthy of at least a sequel or two.
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