Guy Ritchie may have — at long last — lost his fastball when it comes to action ensemble pieces with his muse, Jason Statham.
But their fifth collaboration, a “Mission: Somewhat Improbable” caper (action) comedy, has Aubrey Plaza, Hugh Grant, Josh Hartnett and Cary Elwes to pick up the comic slack whilst Statham throws his punches. And rapper Bugzy Malone makes that “competent sidekick” thing look easy in this good-natured “gangs all here” romp that never quite romps, but bounces along well enough to summon up memories of Statham/Ritchie triumphs of the past.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” is the ungainly title of this much-delayed COVID era Miramax project that went through STX’s hands before Lionsgate took over and presents it to the public. Right from the start, it parks us squarely in the middle of Guy Ritchieland as Mr. “Unique Set of Skills” Statham sees his latest “rehabilitation retreat” interrupted by his posh oenophile control agent (Cary Elwes).
“Mind if I come in?” “Yes I fu—-‘ DO!”
“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’m here?” “No I’m fu—-‘ NOT.”
Something they’re calling “The Handle” has been violently snatched in South Africa. The world’s most dangerous folks are all abuzz about whatever it is — bomb, formula, program, pee pee tapes.
There’s nothing for it but for Orson Fortune to have a go getting it back. He’s lost some of his team to “the competition.” But with driver/sniper/tough guy J.J. (Malone) and new “coms” and IT specialist Sarah Fidel (Plaza) in tow, and boss/fixer Nathan Jasmine (Elwes) pressed into service in the field, maybe they’ll have a spot of luck, eh wot?
An international arms dealer not-quite-able to hide his Cockney past (Grant) is involved. And as he’s obsessed with this Hollywood action star (Hartnett), there’s nothing for it but to persuade the American to come “play yourself,” Nic Cage style, to lure the villain into letting them all break into his yacht, his villainesque villa and his computer so’s they can get a “handle” on the handle.
The whole thing is a Bond-lite lark, lots of “Mission: Impossible” locales — Morocco, London, Madrid, Antalya, Turkey — and swank settings for parties, heists and Statham to bust out a little of the bald-headed, five o’clock shadow fight choreography that made him rich.
Eddie Marsan plays the head of whatever “Special Branch” signs their checks, Peter Ferdinando is the half step ahead or behind rival secret agent hunting the same “handle,” and Grant is more charming and smitten (It’s Aubrey, we get it.) than ruthless — for much of the film — which tends to lower the stakes.
As “the competition” in this pursuit is possibly in-house, another rival agency within British Intelligence, there’s a real void where a Big Bad Villain ought to be. Ritchie didn’t give us a lethal-enough Grant sidekick that is pretty much required in such films to give them a sense of balance.
But Statham and Grant know their way around a punchline or double entendre and Hartnett can be amusing, playing an action hero forced to be heroic.
“Are you a patriot?” “I don’t vote Republican, if that’s what you mean.”
And Plaza is as reliable a dirty laugh as the movies have these days.
“Please don’t pee on me. I don’t do that anymore.”
The “Operation’s” not vintage Ritchie, not classic Statham. But this “Ruse” pays off in ways that will let fans reminisce about the good old days, when their movies were rougher and you needed bloody subtitles to figure out what those limey hoodlums were saying.
Rating: R, violence, profanity, Aubrey Plaza
Cast: Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Bugzy Malone, Josh Hartnett, Cary Elwes and Hugh Grant.
Credits: Directed by Guy Ritchie, scripted by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies. A Miramax film, a Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:54