Guy Ritchie’s latest action-comedy puts Jason Statham and Aubrey Plaza in the middle of a rote heist story.
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By Brandon Yu
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The running joke of Jason Statham’s remarkably sturdy stardom — his bankability as an action lead has been running for over two decades — is that he always plays the same character: a stoic, unbreakable enforcer who offers the occasional gravel-toned wisecrack. The director Guy Ritchie’s own trademark, the stylized British crime comedy, has found its most frequent muse in this archetype, which Ritchie has helped shape in Statham ever since they both broke out with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1999).
They’ve paired up time and time again, but in “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” it seems as if Ritchie, and in turn Statham, has rested too casually into the routine. The distinguishing quality of Statham’s character in this one? Orson Fortune is the best mission man out there, but he grates his employers with bougie requests: for the best wines, and for “rehabilitation vacations” to assuage his neuroticism. It’s an odd character trait thrown on top of Statham’s typically hardened exterior, and, despite the best efforts of a handful of weak jokes, feels thrown in as an afterthought.
Much of the movie operates this way, as a perfunctory heist film just going through the motions. Ritchie seems impatient to get things over with, jumping straight into the mission: A mysterious briefcase has been stolen, and the British government hires a private contractor (Cary Elwes) and his team (Statham, Aubrey Plaza and company) to retrieve it. Soon enough, we’re introduced to the twist: To court the billionaire arms dealer involved in the theft (played by Hugh Grant), Orson decides to kidnap the world’s biggest movie star, Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), whom he plans to use as bait.
The silly premise is one that a better Ritchie film could, with some charm, style and wit, have turned into a workable romp. But everything here is stuck on autopilot. Statham is underutilized, and the movie doesn’t convincingly establish him as the gritty badass it wants him to be. That is fine enough for a film that intends to rely on the breezy touch of a crime-crew comedy, but the ensemble is similarly turned into background noise. It’s not so much that the cast members lack chemistry, but rather that the film doesn’t bother to establish any legible dynamic between their characters, leaving the halfhearted banter without a place to land. Hartnett doesn’t quite have the star power to really make the meta-humor of his character work, rendering his arc a pointless narrative gimmick.
Plaza, though, is the most woefully wasted piece of it all. On paper, there’s real potential between her and Statham — Plaza’s unfazed snark meeting the unamused and immovable object that is Statham — and we see it in pockets. But she’s mostly left as a side player in a film that doesn’t know how to capitalize on their chemistry or to just hand the reins to Plaza to shoot more guns and make more jokes. We’re left instead with brief moments of her devilish charm and fleeting, thrilling seconds of her shooting out a car window in slow motion with Hartnett cowering in the driver’s seat.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
Rated R for language and violence. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. In theaters.
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