Crafty Criminals

Jason Statham does the dirty work in Guy Richie’s action-comedy ‘Operation Fortune’

Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Aubrey Plaze in ‘Operation Fortune,’ a movie that delayed a full year…but not for the reasons you might think.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
Starring Jason Statham, Hugh Grant, Aubrey Plaza, Carey Elwes and Josh Hartnett
Directed by Guy Richie
How to Watch: In theaters Friday, March 3

A high-stakes, slam-bang spy caper, director Guy Richie’s latest flick again shows off his fondness for crafty criminals, fast-moving action and wisecracking British gents.

In Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, a super-agent and his team recruit a Hollywood star to help them on a far-ranging mission to track down a heisted something-or-other. If they don’t get it, someone else will—and that would be bad news for, well, everybody else.

What they’re after, as they follow a $10-billion-dollar money trail, involves special agent Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) breaking bones, busting heads and blasting bad guys all over the place, from the French Riviera to Turkey and Quatar.

And it also involves a sexy-smart computer sleuth (Aubrey Plaza), a munitions and muscle man (British rapper Bugsy Malone), a government secret-ops liaison (Carey Elwes), a celebrity-obsessed billionaire (Hugh Grant) and his Hollywood movie-star crush (Josh Hartnett).

The film’s subtitle, Ruse de Guerre, is French for the “deception of war,” and deception is the name of Operation Fortune’s international cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s been “in the can,” finished and ready to go for more than a full year. Reportedly, its release was postponed not by the COVID 19 pandemic, but for its depictions of Ukrainian gangsters.

Director Richie is known for his British gangster films Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; the Sherlock Holmes franchise with Robert Downey Jr.; The Man From U.N.C.L.E, the big-screen remake of TV’s 1960 spy series; Disney’s Aladdin; and the medieval epic King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. He likes his popcorn movies to have pop, ka-pow and lots of punches, and this one’s got all of those. It’s fast and nimble, sharp and stylish, with likably roguish, smack-talking characters doing dirty work.

The movie opens with the rhythmic click-click-click of shoes on a well-dressed character as he makes his way down a long, polished hallway, setting the stage for the film’s driving percussive beat of quick edits, dapper elegance, quippy banter and globetrotting, jet-setting travel that rarely pauses to catch its breath.

It’s a reunion for the director with Hugh Grant, who appeared in The Gentlemen, another of Richie’s criminal-caper flicks, and with Statham, with whom Richie collaborated Wrath of Man (plus four other projects). British actor Peter Ferdinando—who plays a disreputable rogue spy competing with Statham’s character for the whatzit—was an earl in King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

Aubrey Plaza fires away.

Grant, who became a star in British romcoms and costume dramas— like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary—continues to flex his comedic chops. Plaza, best known as the deadpan April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation and more recently on HBO’s season two of The White Lotus, has saucy fun as the team’s cool, confident tech chick. And Hartnett—whose resume includes playing the Wolfman in the TV horror series Penny Dreadful—slips right into the movie’s meta-joke, as a Hollywood action star who now finds himself playing himself in some for-real, life-or-death cloak-and-dagger business.

But the movie is built around Statham, who continues to ride his reputation for intense, tough-guy roles, as established in the Fast & Furious franchise, The Expendables and a slate of other action-thriller films. His schtick ain’t Shakespeare, but he does elevate meaty, muscle-bound macho to a kind of movie art form—one he satirized to great effect alongside Melissa McCarthy in the rollicking comedy Spy. It doesn’t seem like any stretch at all for him here, playing a character whose quiet, coiled collectedness can erupt, when necessary, in a lethal torrent of bruising force, served up with a dry, wry slice of Brit wit.

There’s a car chase with a vintage Mustang; characters come and go between mansions in luxury jets and private yachts; there’s more than one discussion of fine wine. Everyone, even the thugs, looks dashing. The movie drips self-assured style and oozes money, and people take some realistic-looking pummeling in the fight scenes. But the action sequences seem almost like afterthoughts, paling in comparison to jaw-dropping James Bond moments or anything in the Mission: Impossible films. An explosion blowing out the end of a tunnel? A footrace to catch a guy on a motor scooter? A stuntman falling from off a building? Yawn.

Operation Fortune throws a lot at the screen—characters, breezy British repartee, exotic locales, and loads of kabooms and snapped bones. There’s a robbery—that’s also a ruse—that takes place to the tune of B.J. Thomas singing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” In the end, there’s even a movie within the movie; make sure you stay through the credits. The plot is a knot of detail, a thread to be unspooled, a puzzle box to unpack. “Let’s not make this any messier than it has to be,” someone says at one point. Indeed.

It’s a bit wobbly and untidy but not quite a total mess, from a director clearly back in his comfort zone—his wheelhouse—with a brisk, propulsive, combustive British action-comedy. Operation Fortune won’t win any awards, but if this ruse of a romp sounds like your cup of English tea, well, just sit back and sip and let Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham and crew do their thing.

—Neil Pond


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