I’m kinder to writer/director Guy Ritchie’s work than most.
And that’s because I enjoy most of his movies, which are not always critically acclaimed. They are generally upbeat energetic adventures, with lots of witty comedy thrown in, films like the Robert Downey Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) reboot, and THE GENTLEMEN (2019), which starred Matthew McConaughey.
Now comes OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE (2023), which Ritchie both wrote and directed, a spirited spy thriller starring action star Jason Statham as a British agent who is tasked with preventing the sale of an unknown stolen item to an unknown buyer. Huh? See, the British government knows that something top secret and of high value was stolen, but they don’t know what. They do know that it has attracted the attention of many dangerous buyers. They also know who is brokering the deal, the eccentric billionaire Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant).
So, handler Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) hires superspy Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) to assemble a team to find out what Simmonds is selling, to whom is he selling it to, and then to retrieve it in order to prevent the sale. The team includes tech whiz Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) and all-around expert at everything JJ (Bugzy Malone). To infiltrate Greg’s super secure surroundings, Orson blackmails famous actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) into helping them, because Francesco is Greg’s favorite actor, and he practically loves the man. With Sarah posing as Danny’s girlfriend, and Orson as his new manager, they infiltrate one of Greg’s parties and begin their work. Complicating matters is another better financed team is also on the job, helmed by Orson’s main competition, a spy named Mike (Peter Ferdinando).
The ruse is on! May the best team win!
While I do enjoy Guy Ritchie’s movies, and I did enjoy OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE, it’s a little less spirited and a bit sloppier than some of Ritchie’s other movies, which usually are very slick and polished, and that’s not the case here. While there are plenty of exotic locations, the type you expect to find in a spy movie, Ritchie’s direction and the editing seems a bit off. There are some awkwardly edited scenes, a fight sequence for instance, which ends abruptly, and then is shown again later as a flashback to explain what happened, a decision which was odd to say the least. Just show the fight when it happened. There’s also a scene that ends right in the middle of a line of dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, the screenplay by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies struggles to get the humor right. The writing just isn’t as sharp as it needs to be, and the laughs aren’t always there. The situations are there, the characters interesting to watch, but the dialogue isn’t up to the task. Many of the jokes simply don’t land. What you end up with is a movie that is more amiable than humorous. And it is amiable. I did have fun watching it, but it’s just not as witty as it tries to be.
Of course, the most awkward thing about the movie is its title: OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE. Really? What a mouthful! The French “Ruse de guerre” means “ruse of war.” Yes, these spies are using trickery to wage war against the enemy. I get it. But it’s still an awful title.
But what’s not awful is the cast, which is really the best part of this movie. Jason Statham is always fun to watch, and he remains one of my favorite action stars working today. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Statham performance I haven’t liked. He’s always believable, he always has an edge about him, and he possesses a charismatic screen persona. He also has an awesome spy name: Orson Fortune. You can build a series around a guy with a name like that!
Here, Statham is rock solid once again, and he does enjoy some humorous moments, one of which is when he confuses the front door with the back door of a building and exits the wrong one, leading to an unexpected encounter.
And then you have Aubrey Plaza as Sarah who gives it her all in this movie. Like Statham, she’s also a lot of fun, and she gets one of the best lines in a movie I’ve heard in quite a while, a memorable quip involving a cocktail. Of course, if you really want to see Plaza at the top of her game, you should see EMILY THE CRIMINAL (2022), one of my favorite movies last year, and a true showcase of Plaza’s acting abilities. She’s fine here, but her character plays second fiddle to Statham’s Orson Fortune.
The best performance in the movie, however, belongs to Hugh Grant as the eccentric Greg Simmonds. Grant has a field day with the role, a gay man who is attracted to actor Danny Francesco but who is equally at home wooing and trying to steal his girlfriend from him. And while Grant excels at humorous quips, my favorite part of his performance is when he shows his serious side, which is far more subtle but far more intriguing. When he goes from warm witticisms to cold calculations, like in the scenes where he comes on to Aubrey Plaza’s Sarah, there’s a sense of ruthlessness and menace that seeps to the forefront of his character.
Josh Hartnett is also fun as actor Danny Francesco, who at first is terrified at having to enter a real life dangerous situation, but later embraces it, and uses his acting skills to help with the ruse. My favorite Hartnett role remains his lead performance in the violent hard hitting horror movie 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007). And of course, he made his acting debut as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode’s son John in HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998).
At the end of the day, while not my favorite Guy Ritchie movie, OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE is still a fun and entertaining spy adventure, with a terrific cast, led by Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza, and Hugh Grant, and in spite of a script that isn’t quite up to snuff, still manages to make for very satisfying action-comedy thrill ride.
I give it three stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful