Action-Heavy Operation Fortune is an Entertainingly Silly Con Job
Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre is Guy Ritchie’s latest quip-heavy action extravaganza with star Jason Statham. It plays out like a cross between Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and contains an opening third that feels as if it were written by maniacally grinning 13-year-old obsessed with crassly juvenile sex jokes.
Not to mince words, but those first 30 to 40 minutes are agonizing, and the thought that every second of this almost two-hour film was going to be of a similar tone had my eyes rolling to the back of my head in annoyed frustration. But something funny happens as events progress. The puerile sexual innuendo gets toned down, the talented cast gets into a verbally harmonious rhythm, Ritchie’s visual bravado grows increasingly seductive, and Hugh Grant friskily waltzes in from the shadows and starts to pinch the gosh-darn show.
By the time this ridiculous bit of espionage pulp fiction came to an end, I honestly wanted to watch more. I liked these characters, and I was curious to see what sort of trouble this team of wise-ass secret operatives could get into next. Operation Fortune is a heck of a lot more fun than it has any right to be, and based on how much I despised the first act, I’m as flabbergasted about this as anyone.
After a brazen heist at a top-secret research facility leads to a dangerous technological device being sold to the highest bidder, British secret agent Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) is brought in by his government handler (Eddie Marsan) to get it back — the “how” is up to him. Jasmine turns to crack freelance operative Orson Fortune (Statham) and tasks him to put together a team to find out what was stolen, what it does, who is handling the sale, and who the nefarious individuals paying $10 billion to get their hands on it are.
It gets needlessly convoluted from there, but the basics are that charismatic billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Grant) is the one brokering the sale, whose his favorite actor is “I do all my own stunts” megastar Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett). Fortune blackmails Francesco to assist his team — which includes Aubrey Plaza as tech whiz Sarah Fidel and Bugzy Malone as ace sharpshooter JJ Davies — in running an intricate con on Simmonds, and hilarity, hijinks, fisticuffs, shootouts, and high-speed car chases ensue.
Those expecting another Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels from this director-star combo will likely exit the theater somewhat disappointed. This film is nowhere near as sharp, cunning, or intelligently crafted as those two efforts were. At the same time, once things get rolling and the games between Fortune and Simmonds kick into high gear, there is a whimsically energetic playfulness that’s downright infectious.
Does what transpires make even a modicum of sense? No, not really, and it isn’t like the characters are all that well fleshed out beyond the standard genre traits each exhibits when they’re first introduced. But once Ritchie gets tired of the groan-inducing double entendres and lets his talented cast have some adult-level fun, each knows exactly what to do to make their presence mean something. All the key members of the ensemble get at least one moment in the spotlight.
His ace in the hole, however, is Grant. Much like it was with The Gentlemen (and to a lesser extent The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), the versatile actor makes the most of what is otherwise an underwritten character. Simmonds isn’t so much like a second-rate James Bond villain as he is a second-rate imitation of one from a 007 parody, like Our Man Flint, The Wrecking Crew, or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. But Grant knows exactly how silly this man is and has no problem cutting loose, playing him as if he were a larger-than-life, cigar-chomping cartoon. Watching him do this is positively glorious, especially during the climax, when Simmonds has a bombastic surprise waiting for the weapon’s clueless buyers.
It is unlikely Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre will be the franchise starter all involved probably hoped for. But for those that can connect to its goofily immature wavelength (and can also sit through that exasperating opening act), there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be found. The acting is solid and the action is even better. I say give Ritchie’s latest a chance, as it may just steal your heart.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)