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Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre review: favouring the bold?

Guy Ritchie's latest movie is all about him having fun, enjoying exotic locations and letting Hugh Grant off the leash.

Guy Ritchie’s new film doesn’t make an auspicious first impression, completely ignoring the well established rule that films with colons in their titles are destined for disaster. The most oft-quoted egregious example is 2002’s Antonio Banderas/Lucy Liu vehicle Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (3.6 on IMDb) but, for a more recent example, you only have to look at Rian Johnson’s dismay at being forced to use the styling for his latest film. 

But, then again, Ritchie is not a director who balks at being a hart returning to the water brook should an initial visit prove successful, so perhaps Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is merely intended to be the first in what he hopes will be a long and successful franchise of Fortune movies. We shall see.

After making his mark with laddish, rambunctious fun rides like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch, Ritchie really hit paydirt with his two Sherlock Holmes movies in 2009 and 2011. They may have had about as much to do with Conan Doyle as a soggy biscuit, but they were undeniably popular and certainly built on the mid-career renaissance of one Robert Downey Jr. 

But his Disney sojourn with Aladdin aside, Ritchie has had a somewhat checkered history of late, with his misguided attempt to transpose The Man from U.N.C.L.E from its hips 60s television series origins to the big screen and, worse, his trip to Camelot resulting in the decidedly underwhelming and underperforming King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (further proof, were it needed, of the colon jinx in action).

However, redemption lay in the hands of one Hugh Grant, who is currently enjoying an absolute purple patch in his career. Finally well and truly freed from the restrictions of floppy haired charm and romantic leads, Grant is an actor who is now not only allowed to play, invent and create larger than life characters – he’s positively encouraged to do so. And Ritchie is loving it. 

Hugh Grant is gleefully shady as Guy Simmonds in ‘Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre’. Image: Roadshow Films.

Grant’s work in Ritchie’s 2019 movie, The Gentlemen, as the sleazy private investigator and all round reprobate Fletcher, was so gleefully vile and enjoyable to watch that even among a cast that included the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery, Henry Wu and Jeremy Strong, he was a major factor in that film’s success.

And Ritchie is no idiot. So he’s brought Grant back on board for his new film to do the same thing all over again. And Grant isn’t the only way that Ritchie is ‘getting the band back together’. As a filmmaker known for his loyalty to his favourite actors, he has this time around also corralled long-time collaborator Jason Statham and Josh Hartnett, along with newcomer to the Ritchie-verse, Aubrey Plaza. 

So what’s the deal this time? Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is a generic action spy flick in which a team of highly skilled and daring operatives are hired by the British government to retrieve a stolen something, that has been half-inched by someone, that if it gets into the wrong hands could wind up somewhere and do unthinkable things to someone else – in fact lots of someone elses. 

To carry out this dangerous mission, the ‘man from the ministry’ (played by Cary Elwes) enlists the assistance of the improbably named Orson Fortune (Statham) to lead a crack team including Sarah Fidel (Plaza) and JJ (played by the equally improbably named Bugzy Malone, the stage name of rapper Aaron Davies).

Hartnett is gifted the role of a vain (no, really) Hollywood actor, blackmailed into helping the team infiltrate the life and playtime of the nefarious Greg Simmonds (Grant), a spectacularly wealthy, yet shady, businessman whose weaknesses (rife for exploitation) are Hollywood filmstars and the seduction of Hollywood filmstars’ girlfriends.

Aubrey Plaza extending her range as Sarah Fidel in ‘Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre’. Image: Roadshow Films.

Cue plenty of tomfoolery, foul language, creative fight scenes (well, it is the always balletic Jason Statham, after all), luxurious yachts and glorious exotic locations, with dubious characters right, left and centre.

The plot isn’t as entertaining as The Gentlemen and it also loses steam in the final stretches. Ritchie has some vague stabs at satire by throwing a couple of hapless tech trillionaires into the mix and upping the ante by giving Fortune’s team some unexpected adversaries in the form of Fortune’s former colleague Mike (Peter Ferdinando) and his alternative group of private contractors, who have this time gone rogue (don’t they always?).

Unfortunately, while Ferdinando may look tough enough, he lacks the charisma to make him a particularly memorable foe. Especially when you have someone as skilled in that department as Grant, hogging the screen and blowing everyone else off it. 

Read: Review: Triangle of Sadness

That is, with the exception of Aubrey Plaza, who seems to be currently on an ever upward trajectory. Having made her mark as the go-to deadpan acerbic Millennial in TV shows like Parks and Recreation and indie films like Ingrid Goes West, she’s now clearly expanding her range to show she can handle just about anything. Here she’s as snarky as ever, but can pull off the glamorous honey pot role just as easily when required.

The biggest takeout is that, after the generically entertaining but not terribly memorable Man of Wrath (also starring Statham), it seems Operation Fortune is a further sign that Ritchie is settling into a routine where his films are all about him, and hopefully his audiences, having fun, not taking anything particularly seriously and, when in doubt, sitting back and letting Hugh Grant do his stuff – creating another hilariously preposterous villain, while choosing one of an assortment of English geezer accents to do it with. 

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.