Operation Fortune is Guy Ritchie’s Entertaining Ode to a Bygone Action Movie Era
Or, the forgotten pleasures of the afternoon cable movie.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, the new film from Guy Ritchie, is a perfect cable movie. The film is, in many ways, a worthy follow-up to Ritchie’s two most recent efforts, 2021’s Wrath of Man and 2020’s The Gentlemen. Like those two titles, Operation Fortune is a perfectly fine mid-budget thriller that aspires to do nothing more than deliver pure, unadulterated entertainment. The film doesn’t take itself seriously, which makes it easier to keep one’s expectations for it at a reasonable level.
It also makes accepting the unevenness of Operation Fortune a slightly easier task. The film looks and feels, at times, like every other mid-budget thriller that Ritchie has made. At other times, Operation Fortune looks surprisingly cheap. The film features sequences in hotel rooms and private airplanes that are lit so poorly and so flatly composed, that it’s hard not to wonder whether Ritchie was hamstrung by unexpected budget constraints and simply failed to adequately adapt to them.
Either way, Ritchie’s origins as a late ‘90s and early 2000s action director have, perhaps, never been clearer than they are in Operation Fortune. The film is an inoffensively modest comedic action romp that is, to put it bluntly, immensely watchable. It feels designed to be a movie someone could turn on at any point, get sucked in, and finish without feeling like they just wasted 90 minutes of their lives.
In short: They just don’t make them like this anymore.
Directed and co-written by Ritchie, Operation Fortune doesn’t waste much time setting up its threadbare plot. The film’s first scene introduces Nathan Jasmine (a scenery-chewing Cary Elwes), a private security contractor who is hired by Knighton (Eddie Marsan), a British government official, to find a stolen technological device known only as “The Handle.” As viewers learn in Operation Fortune’s exposition-heavy opening minutes, the Handle was recently stolen by a gang of mobsters who intend to sell it on the black market.
In order to recapture the device and discover its buyer, Elwes’ Nathan has to get in close with Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), the greedy, billionaire arms dealer who is brokering the sale of the Handle. Nathan won’t be able to put a stop to Simmonds’ latest sale alone, though. With that in mind, the British contractor puts together a crew of security operatives, including Orson Fortune (Jason Statham), a British spy with expensive taste; Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), a sarcastic American hacker; and J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone), an unassuming but capable spy.
Together, Fortune, Fidel, and Davies blackmail and kidnap Simmonds’ favorite movie star, Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), and convince him to help them infiltrate Simmonds’ private operation. As far as plots go, Operation Fortune’s makes it undeniably reminiscent of last year’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which similarly felt like an ode to the kind of simple, competently made thrillers that Hollywood rarely produces these days. Despite its convoluted nature, Operation Fortune’s plot is also, in true ‘90s action-movie fashion, little more than a vehicle to get its central crew from one action setpiece to another.
With its endless comedic banter and breezy, slickly choreographed and edited action sequences, Operation Fortune feels like a spiritual sequel to Ritchie’s underrated 2015 spy thriller, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. That film famously mined comedic gold out of its cast’s perfectly over-the-top performances, and Ritchie pulls off a similar feat in Operation Fortune. The filmmaker has, to his credit, always had a knack for assembling charismatic on-screen ensembles, and the crew he puts together in Operation Fortune is no exception to that rule.
As Orson Fortune, Jason Statham remains one of the few working action stars who can still sell the brutality of his fight sequences. Every punch and elbow he throws in Operation Fortune feels deadly, which only makes the film’s hand-to-hand combat scenes land that much harder. Ritchie also remains one of the only directors who knows how to tap into Statham’s comedic edge, and the filmmaker’s decision to pair Statham’s Orson with Plaza’s Sarah proves to be an unexpected stroke of genius.
Plaza’s usual deadpan, wise-cracking persona is fully present in Operation Fortune, and the White Lotus star emerges as a perfect comedic foil to Statham. Of all of the film’s stars, though, it’s Grant who makes the biggest impression. The former rom-com heartthrob continues his recent streak of scene-stealing supporting performances as Greg Simmonds, who gets to deliver a monologue near the end of Operation Fortune that Grant chews up and spits out with devilish glee. He, like many of Operation Fortune’s stars, seems to be having the time of his life on-screen, which only makes the film’s clear budgetary constraints all the more disappointing.
The film is so jaunty and confident that it’d be easy to imagine a world in which Statham, Plaza, Malone, and Elwes’ crew got to return for another on-screen adventure one day. That’d be the case, at least, if the strange cheapness of Operation Fortune’s first 30 minutes didn’t seem to so resoundingly, if silently, imply that it barely manage to get off the ground in the first place. The film, consequently, feels like both a tribute to the easily likable, low-commitment action flicks of the 1990s and 2000s and a depressing reminder that they have essentially vanished from the current Hollywood market.
That’s especially disappointing considering how just how keenly Operation Fortune understands the experience it’s supposed to provide. The film boasts an innate understanding of the kind of surface-level pleasures that Hollywood at large seems to have forgotten, like the fact that any chase — no matter how big or small — is automatically made a little bit better if the vehicle at the center of it is a totally impractical but visually stunning, hot-rod-red muscle car.
As a director, Ritchie still understands how details like that can raise a film’s entertainment value, and if there’s one thing that can be said about Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, it’s that it goes down easy — as it should.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre opens in theaters on Friday, March 3.