Guy Ritchie Struggles With Tone
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Guy Ritchie Struggles With Tone

If you squint, you can kind of make out the type of movie Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre wants to be. Had everything gone right here, the end result would be a light-hearted riff on the Mission: Impossible template that swaps out that franchise’s big-budget, stunt-heavy spectacle for a smaller, funnier adventure that doesn’t take itself so seriously and is more than happy to coast on its B-movie charms. And, hey, that would be a totally fine target for director/co-writer Guy Ritchie and star Jason Statham to shoot for. Which is why it’s unfortunate that things don’t go right here. In fact, for the most part, things go very wrong, and Operation Fortune instead feels like a movie fighting with itself over what it wants to be — so much so that almost every actor in the cast seems to have a different idea about what kind of movie they’re appearing in.

The fifth collaboration between Ritchie and Statham (following 2021’s Wrath of Man) finds the latter starring as Orson Fortune, a world-class spy who’d much prefer to be on vacation sipping fine wine rather than out in the field. But when a mysterious device called “The Handle” that could, at a minimum, unravel the world’s economy is stolen and offered up to the highest bidder, Fortune is called back into action by Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), a covert special-ops contractor who the British government turns to when they don’t want to get their hands dirty. Tasked with tracking down both the seller and the buyer of the stolen tech (as well as the tech itself), Fortune and Jasmine assemble a Mission: Impossible-esque team of spies that includes computer wiz Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), sharpshooter J.J. (British rapper Bugzy Malone), and American actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), who isn’t a spy at all but, for reasons baked into the plot, gets roped into the team’s various schemes. Over the course of the film, they all end up facing off against several different groups of terrorists and mercenaries, as well as a flirty arms dealer played by Hugh Grant, who is clearly in “devil may care” mode and rocks a Cockney accent that would make Michael Caine proud.

There’s no reason this can’t work. But, for that to happen, the script needs to be strong enough to cover for a budget that’s small by today’s action-movie standards, and the cast needs to be united on a common goal — whether it’s spoofing the genre, gently tweaking it, or flat-out reveling in it. After seeing the movie, I honestly don’t think I can tell you which one Ritchie and company were aiming for. And, though it pains me to say it, let’s start the discussion of what doesn’t work here with the film’s most glaring miscalculation — Plaza’s performance as Fortune’s right-hand woman. Look, we all love Aubrey Plaza. And she spent all of last year showing off her range in the sturdy, character-based crime drama Emily the Criminal and across seven brilliant episodes of The White Lotus, Mike White‘s comedy/drama/mystery/social satire hybrid. But in Operation Fortune, Plaza is basically tasked with playing an odd amalgamation of both Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg‘s characters from the Mission: Impossible series, and it seems like she was completely overwhelmed by the challenge. Though Sarah is supposed to be alternatively cunning, sassy, and sexy, Plaza doesn’t bring much to the role past some of her patented wide-eyed snark.

Image via Miramax

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Not helping the fact is she’s asked to deliver dialogue that no amount of charm or deft comic timing could save. Groaners include “The most beautiful roses come from the ugliest manure” and a “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Brady Bunch joke that feels outdated by decades. While they’re planning a particular break-in, Fortune tells the group “I can get inside Alexander’s,” and Plaza’s Sarah replies, “Well, I hope you take him to dinner first…before you get inside him.” It’s likely no actor could save bon mots that feel this stale, but Plaza rarely seems interested in even trying. Throughout most of the movie, it’s hard to shake the notion that she wasn’t playing an actual character but rather was giving us another one of her fake Parks and Recreation alter-egos — a close relative of Janet Snakehole, perhaps.

Other members of the cast fare better but aren’t able to salvage an adventure that trots the globe but never seems to gain any momentum. Statham turns in what could be considered a baseline performance for him — he kicks a little ass and gets a bit cheeky — but this isn’t one of those films where he goes above and beyond the call. Hartnett does the standard, meta “aren’t actors really just dumb assholes?” routine. Malone’s no-nonsense field agent feels like a blank slate during the first half, but does grow more likable as the movie goes along, probably because it feels like he’s playing a legitimate character instead of just doing a bit. Grant is definitely doing a bit, although it’s an intermittently amusing one.

That brings us to Operation Fortune‘s one bright and shining light: Cary Elwes, who is the one person who seems to understand exactly what this movie needs to properly function. Elwes is fun to watch every single moment he’s on screen. He takes the material completely seriously, but uses a deft touch to inject each scene with warmth and humor. It almost feels like this role should serve as an audition to get into him into a bigger, better action series…but then I remember he’s already been cast in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, so it seems justice has already been served here. (Hopefully, Christopher McQuarrie finds room to give him plenty of screen time.)

Cary Elwes in Operation Fortune
Image via Lionsgate

Operation Fortune had a rough path to theaters. It was originally supposed to debut early last year before its production company, STX Entertainment, got cold feet, possibly because some of its stock villains were identified as being from Ukraine, which had just found itself under attack from Russia. While the film was delayed, STX shut down its distribution arm, and producers scrambled to find a new distributor. After flirting with the streamers, the movie wound up at Lionsgate, which, to their credit, is giving it a theatrical release. It’s tough to say how much, if any, the movie was edited during the year it sat in limbo, although I didn’t notice a single mention of Ukraine in the film. There are definitely times when the movie feels a bit butchered, although that can happen with or without any late-game tinkering. The various baddies Fortune’s team faces off against, including a rival spy team, seem largely faceless and superfluous. And Ritchie and editor James Hebert occasionally get tricky with scene sequencing to try to goose action bits that feel too lethargic.

There’s one scene in particular where Fortune has to escape an armed compound. First, we see him on the receiving end of an apparent gunshot, then we quickly jump forward to see him safely back with the team, then the film flashes backward to show who actually took the bullet we heard being fired, and then it flashes back once more to finally show a complete picture of how the whole escape played out. It’s a lot of work for a sequence that really isn’t that impressive to begin with. The few glimpses we get of Ritchie’s signature style here feel ill-fitting and far less successful in making the final product feel idiosyncratic in the way his best work does.

The cast as a whole never gels together like you’d want in a big team-based spy film like this, maybe because they spend so much time in separate locations talking to each other through earpieces. It’s a spy-movie trope you see all the time, but Operation Fortune goes overboard with it, and there are long stretches where it feels more like you’re watching actors plow through their lines than you are characters having an actual conversation. The plot itself, with a generically all-powerful McGuffin at the center, feels like warmed-over James Bond. (And mediocre Bond at that.)

There’s a moment in the film where Fortune stops mid-heist to watch a moment or two of George Roy Hill‘s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is playing on a nearby TV. Maybe that’s indicative of the tone Ritchie was going for here: a thrilling adventure that’s also light-footed enough to play with multiple tonal shifts. Well, if that’s the case, the film fails mightily to reach that lofty goal. Butch and Sundance jumped off their cliff with style and panache. Comparatively, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre stumbles flat on its face.

Rating: D

Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre comes to theaters on March 3.