Breaking news in the field of science: Astronomers and physicists have calculated the location of Jason Statham’s event horizon, and it is Guy Ritchie’s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. This means that the film crosses the point of no return without realizing it, and everything—everything—Ritchie has put into his project gets sucked right into Statham’s burly arms. Remember: Even light can’t escape the pull, which means his bald dome can’t serve as a warning beacon. All is absorbed by his Yarmouth growl.
This is a disaster. Statham belongs in more comedies, as proven in Paul Feig’s best film, Spy, where Hollywood’s most bankable tough guy supplements Melissa McCarthy slapstick in a welcome pivot from his normal antics (i.e. beating the shit out of dudes without breaking a sweat). Ritchie, too, packs a sense of humor. While his recent Wrath of Man is a humorless film, the Ritchie we know and love from the days of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is hilarious, and a reunion with Statham, star of those two movies (as well as Wrath) sounds promising. Add in Aubrey Plaza and Cary Elwes and the concept appears bulletproof.
Fair’s fair: Operation Fortune: Ruse du Guerre has its moments. Ritchie has thoughtfully composed his cast, with each member expressing different but complementary comic styles: Plaza the sardonic wag, Elwes the natty dry wit, Bugzy Malone the laid back hyper-observer, and Statham the hammer, who knocks down punchlines and gags with brusque, impatient energy. But Statham is positioned as an over-capable force of reckoning, outfitted in Plot Armor that would make Sterling Archer seethe in whiskey-fueled jealousy. His producer credit is a possible tell: His character dominates scads of anonymous thugs as much as his star power dominates the screen, sometimes when he isn’t even present, leaving his co-stars with considerably less room to flex than they deserve.
Operation Fortune: Ruse du Guerre comes together as a riff on the Mission: Impossible franchise specifically, and spy thrillers in general, a bit like Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 movies from the late 2000s. It assembles a team of good-looking movie stars playing a mixture of hand-to-hand experts, masters of intel and subterfuge and tech geniuses, sends them on a simple job, reveals with a flourish that the job isn’t simple at all, and cues the fireworks. Here, Ukrainian crooks steal “The Handle,” a MacGuffin whose purpose is revealed later in the film, and so British government contractor Nathan Jasmine (Elwes) impels Orson Fortune (Statham) to lead his crew in retrieving the device. Fortune is joined by hacker Sarah Fidel (Plaza) and multipurpose footman J.J. Davies (Malone), globetrotting from Madrid to Cannes to surveil multi-billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), who is intent on selling the Handle to the highest bidder.
It’s a spy movie by the numbers. There’s even a rival outfit competing with Nathan and company for the Handle, but they’re finesse-free spies of the “shoot first and ask questions if anyone survives all the bullets and explosions” persuasion. Ritchie’s filmmaking reflects their blunt approach to their craft more than the smooth, deceptive style Nathan prefers; transitions between scenes are abrupt, as if Ritchie is in a hurry to get the movie where it needs to go. He almost feels like he’s playing from behind, huffing and puffing to catch up with his own story. The structural choice is ambiguous. Either Ritchie didn’t bring his typical slickness for the ride, or he’s chopped up Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre intentionally to take the piss out of the genre.
The effect at least feels more like comfort than boredom. Everyone here is at ease in their parts, particularly Plaza, one of the hottest actors going at the moment. Ritchie leans hard on the whole span of her persona and allure, at least when Statham isn’t blithely battering fools with his mitts or rolling his eyes at the mounting inconveniences imposed on the team’s objective. Like Dante Hicks, the character is here under duress; this is supposed to be Orson’s day off. But still the camera stays trained on him. Any moment where Elwes, Plaza or Malone (who admittedly occupies a smaller share of the script as written) starts revving up, the shot inevitably cuts back to Statham, as if he’s the foreman and they’re just his workers.
A sequence capping off the movie’s second act drives the disparity home. Sarah and Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), a movie star roped into Nathan’s scheming as a way of getting closer to Simmonds (turns out he’s a Danny mega-fan), escape from Simmonds’ palatial Turkish villa, his security goons hot on their tail. Danny’s living out the fantasies he only ever has indulged in blockbusters: Badass muscle car, high-octane race against death, stinger in the passenger seat taking potshots at their pursuers. Then Orson arrives in a chopper and promptly blows up the goons with a missile. J.J. is with him, it seems, only to needle him over misfiring his first salvo, while Sarah and Danny are there for posterity, secondary figures for Orson’s overwhelming badassery—just like Plaza, Elwes, Davies and even Grant. It’s Statham’s stage. They merely get to share it.
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies, Guy Ritchie
Starring: Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes, Bugzy Malone, Hugh Grant, Josh Hartnett
Release Date: March 3, 2023
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.