Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham made the big-time together in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and while they aren’t inseparable, they find their way back together. Their last project, Wrath of Man, wasn’t the sort of collaboration you’ve come to expect from both men. After paycheck work like Aladdin, Ritchie jumped perhaps too far in the opposite direction tonally when he made that film. Now, Ritchie is back on his ensemble caper beat, adding new players like Aubrey Plaza and Cary Elwes to holdovers Statham, Eddie Marsan, and Hugh Grant.
Rather than the gruff, streetwise cons he plays in Ritchies’ flicks, Statham plays a gruff, streetwise spy named Orson Fortune. Recruited by Five Eyes agency to prevent the sale of new weapons tech, Fortune must intercept a briefcase stolen from Odessa. The problem? No one knows what’s in the briefcase, who has it, or who wants it. The only given of the case is that billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant) is playing the fence, and the item in question is “something very nasty.” If all of this sounds like a Man from UNCLE sequel, well, there’s a six-foot-tall elephant in the room preventing that sequel from happening. Fortune is a habitual loner, but he has access to the best operatives in the world (Plaza, Elwes, and Bugzy Malone) for this job. The only thing missing is a wild card.
Every heist film has a wild card, whether it’s Waingro (Heat), Jem (The Town), or Tess Ocean (Ocean’s Twelve). This character might crack, or be the one that the crew can’t trust or predict. In Operation Fortune, that part goes to Hollywood star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett). Unlike Fortune, Francesco isn’t a willing recruit. He is only on this globetrotting mission because 1) he is Simmonds’ favorite actor, and 2) Five Eyes has compromising footage of Francesco and his sister-in-law that he’d prefer to keep out of the public. Never one to miss a chance to break balls, Fortune insists that this ruse could be “Francesco’s greatest role yet.” Francesco is a bundle of nerves, but, fortunately, Simmonds is a huge narcissist, and he gladly invites to have the actor to shadow him “for a role.” They have their “in.” Now all they have to do is save the world.
Hugh Grant, the man who stole Paddington 2 and The Gentlemen, unsurprisingly walks away with Operation Fortune too. Playing a shadowy billionaire with world-ending ambition agrees with Grant very well. Simmond’s charity for war orphans (for whom he is responsible as an arms dealer) allows for Grant to chew scenery. Even with the film’s stellar ensemble, he’s a standout. Plaza and Elwes are spectacular additions to the Guy Ritchie company. They bring wit and flair to their parts as Sarah Fidel and Nathan Jasmine. Plaza isn’t the first actor to come to mind when thinking of a Guy Ritchie flick, but she’s essential once she shows up. Her delivery is tailor-made for the rapid banter dialogue that Ritchie prides himself on. The three supporting actors shore up a somewhat creaky script that confuses being vague with being clever.
But let’s get to the action, shall we? Statham exists in rarified air when it comes to stunt work. If a practical way to do it is possible, he’s game. Other action films highlight the brutality of Statham’s efficient combat style whereas Operation Fortune has a little more fun, shooting everything in ballet-style choreography. There’s a lack of dramatic payoff in the hand-to-hand combat sequences, however. Even Fortune’s dynamic rival (Peter Ferdinando) doesn’t stand a chance of besting him in a fight. While that choice elevates Fortune to a bad-ass, it hinders action scenes with a lack of tension. If Fortune is invincible, there is no reason to worry. The only thing preventing Fortune from continuing his mission might be his bills for expensive wine and private jets.
How much audiences will seek out a movie about a megalomaniac imperiling the whole world is a question with the invasion of Ukraine still lingering on our collective psyches. Shifting the film’s release from 2022 to 2023 mitigates that somewhat, though not changing the nationality of the goons will draw criticism. Considering how easy it would be to fix over a year of delays, it’s strange that Ritchie kept it in. This film is supposed to be fun. It’s a change of pace after Ritchie and Statham’s last team-up.
Wrath of Man was humourless in a way that moviegoers hadn’t seen since Revolver. Adapted from a solemn French actioner, Le Convoyeur, Ritchie disregarded any notions about making characters relatable. Instead, he focused on the shallow nature of masculinity in the many loathsome characters in the story. Operation Fortune isn’t operating on that sort of wavelength. Ritchie uses Hartnett to poke fun—his Wrath of Man character talked a big game but was a coward—playing a clueless American celebrity who’s in way over his head.
The actors are having an absolute blast, yet Operation Fortune is nothing you haven’t seen before from James Bond or even Man from UNCLE. The film isn’t great, though it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a breezy good time. Ritchie adds flair to the proceedings with his signature time-jumping. Upping the pace with smash cuts to flashbacks that add context to the story. But, more impressively, Ritchie avoids setting up future Five Eyes agency adventures. It feels like a Herculean effort to make a one-off in the current Hollywood marketplace, but it does happen.