I wonder how Guy Ritchie would define fun. His chosen subgenre is located somewhere between gangster drama and action comedy, but his films can sometimes be weighed down by incoherent storytelling, bro-code blather, and failed attempts at cleverness. They should be romps, but an overbearing fussiness threatens to kneecap them at every turn. Then every once in a while, just when you least expect it, the man produces something truly charming and light-footed — like Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.
That title is so cumbersome that it threatens to annoy the viewer before the movie even begins. Luckily, the opening sequence offers up some good Guy. On the soundtrack, all we hear is the tap-tap-tapping of one man’s footsteps while onscreen, we see glimpses of some huge, bloody shoot-out. Experienced without sound, the headshots, high-falls, and death-seizures of the mêlée take on a slapstick quality — all of these men being blown away in the middle of the night while, elsewhere, a career intelligence official crisply walks down an elegant hall in fancy shoes.
The shoes belong to Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), who has discovered that something really important has been stolen by somebody and is about to be sold on the weapons black market to somebody else. Nathan, however, has no idea who’s doing the selling, who’s doing the buying, or for that matter what the thing being sold is. He just knows that this object is fetching such a massive price that it’s got to be bad, whatever it is. This is a good setup for a movie — especially a movie by Guy Ritchie, who likes to play off of his characters’ limited vision and occasional lunkheadedness.
Nathan hires veteran superspy Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) and puts together a team to infiltrate the world of playboy billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), who is apparently serving as a middleman in this mysterious sale. Simmonds happens to be obsessed with the work of action movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), so Fortune has the bright idea of convincing/blackmailing the neurotic Francesco to help get them through the door.
This sounds an awful lot like last year’s Nicolas Cage action comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, but we can’t really call it an imitation. Operation Fortune was slated for release last spring (right around the same time as Massive Talent) but was suddenly pulled from the schedule after its distributor, STX Entertainment, went under.
If the Cage film leaned more toward meta-comedy, with occasional uninspired pit stops at action, Ritchie goes in the opposite direction. Operation Fortune has plenty of action set pieces: shootouts, car chases, and acrobatic beatdowns. You could imagine it as a dry run for a James Bond film. Maybe a delightfully dead-eyed bruiser like Statham would not be considered Bond material, but Fortune’s fondness for private jets, luxury vacations, and expensive wines does bring to mind how Sean Connery once described Ian Fleming’s original conception of 007: “A very simple, straightforward, blunt instrument of the police force, a functionary who would carry out his job rather doggedly [with] a lot of idiosyncrasies that were considered snobbish … such as a taste for special wines.”
What about the comedy? At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it should work. Aubrey Plaza, as a communications expert on Fortune’s team, delivers a steady stream of dorky one-liners, most of which fly over Statham’s head. These two actors — one a goof with a constant gleam in her eyes, the other a perpetually pissed-off killer — don’t look in any way suited to play off of one another. And yet it all turns out to be inspired casting, adding just the right level of comic awkwardness to an otherwise competent action flick.
As does the presence of Hartnett, whose strapping outward confidence is betrayed by the bewildered, scared dim-bulb lurking within. By contrast, Grant’s leathery, raspy Simmonds is clearly concealing a coiled, murderous rage beneath his surface chumminess. You can almost imagine one of Grant’s old affable rom-com heroes growing bitter, becoming a billionaire, smoking too many cigarettes, and retiring to a heavily armed yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s a great role for him. Come to think of it, these are all great roles — for Statham, Plaza, and Hartnett. Everybody in Operation Fortune — yes, even Ritchie — seems to be having fun. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
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