It’s the mark of a truly lazy and amateur writer to begin any piece with a dictionary definition, specifically one which relates back to the title of the piece which they are analyzing. Which is why this critic will point you not to Webster’s, but instead to Wikipedia (a loophole!) for a description of the French phrase “ruse de guerre,” one that is featured prominently in the title of the new action flick Operation Fortune: “emphasizing acts against one’s opponent by creative, clever, unorthodox means.” Let’s be clear upfront: if there are one or two or three things that Guy Ritchie’s latest slab of action-oriented machismo will never be accused of, those would be “creative,” “clever,” and “unorthodox.” Indeed, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is nothing more than Ritchie’s fumbling attempt at Mission: Impossible, a globe-trotting adventure featuring a team of spies and specialists that unfortunately has none of that long-standing franchise’s creativity, visual panache, or, quite frankly, budget. Ritchie has always been a filmmaker who operates best with small-scale stories told in the most ostentatious ways imaginable, his stylistic tics tempered by the specificity with which he captures a particular location and its inhabitants, the seeming authenticity oozing out of its pores. Even big-budget studio spectacles such as Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes series and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword were marked by this particularity, if only in fleeting moments.
Operation Fortune instead finds Ritchie in Man from U.N.C.L.E. mode, a breezy contraption that isn’t necessarily good, but never reaches the barrel bottom known as Ritchie’s Madonna-starring Swept Away remake. Jason Statham stars as — wait for it — Orson Fortune, an international spy subcontracted out by the English government when the mission is just too damn dangerous and covert for MI6. Fortune’s handler, Nathan Jasmine (Carey Elwes) — seriously, these names — likes to bilk the government for all sorts of expenses like rare wines and a jumbo jet the size of Rhode Island, all under the guise that they are part of Fortune’s tour rider, and we should all applaud the man for screwing over the Royal family. Fortune’s latest mission finds him trying to track down a recently stolen Doomsday device, with tech specialist Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and sharpshooter JJ Davies (Bugzy Malone) in tow. Before long, they have acquired another member, Hollywood superstar Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), who is used as bait to ferret out the nefarious billionaire and arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), who happens to be the heartthrob’s biggest fan. For a universally beloved actor, such a challenge proves to be his greatest role, playing a version of himself while simultaneously saving the world. And if all of this sounds remarkably similar in plot to last year’s Nic Cage as Nic Cage vehicle The Unbelievable Weight of Massive Talent — minus the meta — let it be noted that this has been sitting on the shelf for over a year due to the bankruptcy of its original studio.
But that’s not to suggest anything even remotely clever is done with this particular subplot; in fact, the film that houses but barely addresses it. Operation Fortune has the distinct whiff of severe producer interference, the 150-minute cut that obviously existed at one point now arriving in a slim 114-minute package that glosses over major plot points with obvious ADR, and rarely gives Ritchie the opportunity to indulge in his usual kinetic schtick. Aside from a few moments of split screen and a climax backed by an overactive symphonic score, Ritchie’s latest could be the work of any mid-tier director-for-hire simply biding their time for a bigger opportunity. It’s not hard to see what attracted Ritchie to the project, but he ultimately seems as disinterested as his overqualified cast, save for Grant, who is currently in the stage of his career where no part is too small and no scenery too insignificant to be leveraged for maximum mastication. Still, that also means at least someone in this production has something resembling a pulse. Meanwhile, the plot moves forward with such breakneck speed that it all but eliminates boredom as a potential viewer response, even as the action scenes themselves are shot and executed with all the grace and excitement of a local news station’s coverage of a new Wendy’s opening. The door is predictably left open for a sequel, but that implies anyone involved would want to return, viewers included. The only fortune that exists here is the kind that made this cast and crew sign up in the first place. May they enjoy their rewards; at least someone got something out of this absolute nothing.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 10.