What to Watch Verdict
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre gives us what we want from another Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham collaboration, even if they fall into formulaic espionage-comedy rhythms.
Aubrey Plaza is a pleasant Statham counterbalance
Dependable spy games with kooky characters
It's old hat for Ritchie and Statham, comfortable in their roles
Better character design than plot development
Exists to entertain, but enthusiasm comes and goes
After being pulled from the release calendar in February 2022, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre finally infiltrates theaters. Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie reteams with brawny tough-guy muse Jason Statham for another rousing espionage thriller featuring punched throats, cheeky insults and ridiculous plotlines that somehow helicopter themselves home.
Ritchie's not challenging career highlights like Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but Ritchie and Statham's spy games always tend to at least hit the right baseline. Operation Fortune can feel like an algorithmic output of international heist antics, but oozes far more charisma than a computer in disguise filling in for ghost agents or megalomaniac misogynist villains.
Statham stars as — wait for it — Orson Fortune, a gold-star operative summoned by team captain and mission overseer Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes). The British government hires Nathan and his squad to prevent a device codenamed "Handle" from being sold by billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant). No one knows what the "Handle" is, but it's probably bad. Nathan enlists Orson as his point man, poaches comms expert Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) from their competition and hires the job-hungry J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone) to fill out their A-team.
Intel will take them everywhere, from America to France to Turkey, but they won't be alone. Beloved actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) is their ticket into Simmonds' inner circle. But Nathan's most formidable competition — rival Mike (Peter Ferdinando) — keeps being a thorn in everyone's side.
If everything above sounds vague and swappable with other laugh-and-grab flicks, that's with purpose. Operation Fortune is far better at crafting characters than its titular "ruse of war" — the translation of "Ruse de Guerre," exemplified by stories like the Trojan Horse. Ritchie, alongside co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, leans on familiar genre structures like the country hopping of Mission: Impossible movies or the illusion of classified information to uphold an air of mystery. Neither Statham nor Ritchie feels terribly renegade as they color within the lines of predictable story beats to fulfill a core mission — curveballs that beget improvisation and maybe a betrayal or two.
Operation Fortune is made better by its ensemble, starting with Statham's expert assassin of exquisite wine tastes and effortless beatdowns. The way he chuffs Cary Elwes' stay-at-home shot caller like an obstinate child is delightful, much like how Aubrey Plaza razzes Statham's macho alpha dog with biting sarcasm that gnaws through Fortune's stony exterior. Ritchie's bread and butter are the one-liners that Plaza, or any character, sneaks in before a scene changes. Josh Hartnett gets to play an egotistical American actor like a younger Tom Cruise with golden retriever energy, while Hugh Grant squeezes Bond villain slickness into priceless designer suits as he smooth talks his way through unsavory motivations that make despicableness seem in season. These core characters feel more fleshed out than the story itself, which means more in a Guy Ritchie movie where dialogue can be as exciting as action sequences.
One of the movie's dual assets and issues is a sense of indulgence; like Ritchie is making this one for himself. Sets from megarich Turkish villas to Cannes superyachts are products of extravagant production design that accentuate Operation Fortune's high-stakes criminal rackets. They're more pleasing to the eye than Ritchie's obsession with frantic camera movements during siege-heavy sequences, when cinematography mimics that of a first-person-shooter video game as Fortune storms a heavily guarded stronghold.
Ritchie also indulges humor, like Sarah's sexualized delivery of instructions into Fortune's earpiece or Fortune's continual mockery of Nathan's healthier eating habits, which becomes a detriment when a particular gag isn't working for personal tastes. What's often tried on-screen is never half-cocked, for better and worse. Everyone's suits and dresses are ravishingly tailored, filthy rich style overflows while substance flattens, yet entertainment still endures because Ritchie and Statham — at their most mediocre in spy-thriller terms — are still better than average.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is neither a disaster nor an instant classic. Some elements work better than others, like Plaza's snarky back-and-forth with Statham or Hartnett and Grant's chemistry as a detached character actor fawning over a wanted arms dealer. Guy Ritchie's ruse isn't in warfare; it's the suggestion that Operation Fortune is a doubly complex matter of national security.
Approach Operation Fortune as a jaunty mercenary romp with The Brady Bunch jokes and colorful characters eating egg-white omelets while Plaza humorously dissects sexism in special forces professions. When Ritchie's dialogue is on, it's aces — when it's not, at least Statham is there to strike a security henchman down as a distraction.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre releases in movie theaters on March 3.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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