Directed by Guy Ritchie | Written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies | 114 min | ▲▲△△△ | Amazon Prime
The painful and much postponed journey of this action comedy from bad boy Brit director Guy Ritchie to the (small) screen might make for a more entertaining picture than this one. Apparently, this awkwardly named feature has been sitting on the shelf for more than a year, but at least it got marketing and a proper release in North America. Ritchie’s last one, Wrath of Man, barely made a ripple.
What he’s done this time out is mix together standard-issue action hokum, a sprig of sub-Mission: Impossible international spycraft, and a splash of The Man From UNCLE irreverence. Shake it up and you’ve got something slightly fizzy and sweet, an umbrella drink that goes down easy. There’s no weight to it and no measurable emotional involvement to speak of, but to beat the analogy to death, this beverage isn’t without taste. That’s mostly due to the talent of at least a couple of the cast.
Jason Statham is the colourfully named Orson Fortune. He’s a duplicate of any number of tough guy character he’s played in the past with his two personality characteristics being a suspicious nature and fear of air travel — which is easily managed with a bottle of red wine. His handler, Nathan (an uncomfortable looking Cary Elwes) and his handler’s handler, Knighton (Eddie Marsan), work for British intelligence and contract Fortune to track down a suitcase that has something valuable in it.
Naturally, what that thing is turns out to be a threat to the planet, and of interest to a couple nasty biotech billionaires. The man brokering the deal around this MacGuffin is another wealthy sleaze, Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, adding to his growing catalogue of charming baddies — see here and here).
In order to secure the device, inexplicably called The Handle, Fortune practically abducts a Hollywood star named Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) to help lubricate Greg, who’s a big fan. In the company of a hacker named Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), and hard man named JJ (Bugzy Malone), they travel to Cannes and points east (the film was shot in Turkey and Qatar, of all places) on their mission, complicated by a rival team that keeps getting the jump on them led by Fortune’s nemesis, Mike (Peter Ferdinando).
That this plot took three full paragraphs to describe is a surprise because it’s all so fluffy that much detail feels like a waste. This movie isn’t much more than an excuse to watch the Stath dispatch muscular thugs with guns, blades, and fists, and the rest of his crew make pithy remarks, sometimes at his expense.
Ritchie brings the requisite glamour — largely in locations, sets and costumes — though the action feels a little underpowered. We barely get a decent car chase and the explosions are few.
Ritchie is also a fan of weird storytelling choices, like Fortune watching Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid on TV and then having “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” score a burglary scene with him (and Fidel) singing along. If I didn’t know better I’d say it’s his homage to Hudson Hawk, but who in their right mind would do that?
Even with all the plot’s moving parts, at no time does this feel that anything important is happening here. This could’ve been pushed into a full-on comedy — something closer to Spy — and it would’ve been a lot more effective, or they could’ve gone the other way, a turn toward Bourne, cooking up a few genuine stakes and suspense, but that’s not Ritchie’s style. Operation Fortune is more like a family friendly take on those Kingsman movies. It’s a bit sad a filmmaker with his obvious talent has kind of become the guy who makes PG versions of Matthew Vaughn pictures.
The two reasons to watch Operation Fortune are named Plaza, whose presence in movies and TV shows these days immediately improves them, and Grant, ditto. On a rainy, unfussy afternoon you could do worse than throw this movie on to bear witness to how their special magic improves otherwise ordinary material.