' ' Cinema Romantico: Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Monday, April 24, 2023

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Like many modern movies, it seems, Guy Ritchie’s “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is an almost two-hour action-comedy affair where despite a lot happening, it feels as if nothing does, a cinematic cake made of plentiful ingredients that fails to rise. There is one memorable shot in the whole movie, in which the camera half-circling a sports car traversing a seaside road picks up both a helicopter shot out of the sky and the character in the passenger who did the shooting. Otherwise, Ritchie feels strictly on autopilot, wasting a nifty idea in which the British government enlists a bawdy private contractor (Jason Statham) to retrieve a stolen MacGuffin before it’s sold on the black market by enlisting the favorite actor, Danny Francesco (Josh Harnett), of the man brokering the deal, Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), to get close to him. In other words, it’s the Impossible Mission Force team doing an “Argo” with the help of Rick Dalton. Harnett, bless his heart, is game, but Ritchie and his co-writers Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies never exploit his turn or his part of the plot to the fullest. Just when it starts to cook, Danny disappears for a stretch, and his climactic car chase never truly realizes the idea of an actor who claims to do his own stunts living out the role. The best gag is both the smallest and biggest, recurring billboard in the background for the fictional Francesco-starring “Barbary Coast” billboard; could we have just screened that movie instead?

Grant puts on a Cockney accent for this one but doesn’t have as much fun as he is normally might, and never feels frighteningly larger-than-life as the role requires to really elicit the immense fear of being in Simmonds’s orbit, coming across more like the sidekick than the featured antagonist. Statham, frankly speaking, looks less like an Orson Fortune than, say, a Mike Hook, which happens to be the name of the dueling private contractor (Peter Ferdinando) who shows up at all the wrong moments to throw an extra wrench into the proceedings. Indeed, Orson is set up as a man with a taste for the finer things in life, demanding the most expensive wines aboard private flights and such, but this is a character detail that is set up and then never really followed through, not least because Statham doesn’t seem interested in playing him that way. No, as Nathan Jasmine, the handler overseeing Orson’s team, the droll, dapper Cary Elwes honestly comes across more like the version of this Orson Fortune that “Operation Fortune” is peddling and left me wishing for the Elwes-aissance by way of him playing Orson Fortune. I know, I know, I hear you. The whole point of “Operation Fortune,” you’re countering, is to see Statham kick butt. A fair rebuttal. Except. Why does every butt that Statham kicks come across like he’s just meeting a quota, rendered with so little panache? Because both Statham and Bugzy Malone, as Orson’s sharp-shooter right-hand man J.J. Davies, emit similar stiff airs, it might have made sense to cast Statham in the J.J. Davies role with Elwes as Orson.

Then again, computer hacker extraordinaire Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) is also made part of the team so that Plaza can play off Statham like Statham and Dwayne Johnson played off one another in “The Fate of the Furious.” Alas, just as that bromance never ended in the fight that was brewing all movie, Statham and Plaza’s chemistry never takes full flight either, not least because narratively “Operation Fortune” chooses not to see it entirely through, all the more unfortunate because Plaza’s patented dry wit is sort of the life preserver you glom on to as the reason to see the “Ruse de Guerre” through. When Sarah and Orson first meet, she bows, and Plaza quips, “Your majesty.” I don’t know, it’s entirely possible that line was written, not improvised, but Plaza makes it feel impromptu, the one time all movie I laughed out loud, the one time the movie ever feels truly alive.

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