Credit: Dan Smith/Lionsgate
Blockbuster Beat by Matt Lynch Featured Film

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare — Guy Ritchie

April 18, 2024

Guy Ritchie has always been a bit of an aggressive but empty stylist. Right out of the gate with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he established a largely fully-formed persona for his films as flashy, digressively humorous, and more focused on momentum generated by his sprawling casts and feisty camerawork than actual story. His Brit-gangster comedies basically became a cliche of their very own, spawning just as many knockoffs as Tarantino’s crime films. He tends to be most successful when he’s in the business of pastiche, as in Snatch, or even his under-appreciated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In the case of his latest movie, the World War 2 commando-come-caper comedy The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warface, it’s safe to suggest that business is a-boomin’.

Which is to say that Ritchie’s latest is almost a front-to-back knockoff of Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, which is not entirely a bad thing. Loosely based on a real mission carried out by the Special Operations Executive, a real covert unit, it’s 1941, and the British are desperate to get the Americans into the war. The problem is that any U.S. ships crossing the Atlantic are likely to be sunk by Germany’s massive fleet of U-boats. Churchill himself (Rory Kinnear) assigns rakish Major Gus March-Phillipps (Henry Cavill) to grab some guys and head off to the Spanish island of Fernando Po and sabotage a Nazi supply depot, crippling Germany’s sub capabilities. Along for the ride are Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer), Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson from Reacher), who’s an expert with a bow and arrow, and explosives specialist Freddy Alvarez (Henry Golding). Meanwhile, Mr. Heron (Babe Olusanmokun) and Jewish actress/double-agent Marjorie Stewart (Eiza Gonzales) are on a parallel mission to find out just where the crucial supplies are stored.

If that doesn’t sound like a classic men-on-a-mission war movie, there’s likely no convincing you. It’s not the story in and of itself that marks this so totally as a Basterds… oh, let’s charitably say homage. Rather, it’s the largely irreverent tone, the (very welcome) gleeful violence, and the allegedly witty banter (here jam-packed with “Cheerio” and “Old Chap”) that Ritchie stuffs his film to the brim with. Meanwhile, the score by Christopher Benstead is very strenuously (but pleasantly) trying to emulate the beloved Italian scores so lovingly needle dropped, and then Til Schweiger shows up! The subtitles are even in the font Tarantino used in the credits of his film.

But if this all sounds like a list of cribbing in service of a criticism, it’s not: the movie is perfectly fun. So long as you’re willing to give into the shtick, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare offers plenty of cleanly staged action, a charismatic cast clearly having a good time yukking it up in this movie sandbox, and it’s over in two hours. Ritchie’s direction is cleaner than usual, largely unfussy, and he makes a good effort at covering what’s probably a very stretched budget here. A few decades ago, we used to get junk food like this in theaters, reliably, every other weekend; these days, you’ll probably end up watching this with your Dad on Netflix in six to nine months. But that’s no fault of the film itself, and while there’s no need to exaggerate Ministry‘s merits, it’s just also good enough to be satisfyingly tasty.

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie;  CAST: Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Henry Golding, Cary Elwes, Alan Ritchson;  DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate;  IN THEATERS: April 19;  RUNTIME: 2 hr.