Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Guy Ritchie is a filmmaker whose work I’ve never quite gelled with. His early films, like Snatch, are too stuffed with bogus tough-guy posturing for my taste, and his later ones, including King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, are too polished for their own good. The director’s latest, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, is therefore a pleasant surprise. It achieves a nice balance between macho action and sleek style, without going overboard in either direction. Ritchie hasn’t made anything approaching a great film yet, but this is a briskly-paced, entertaining picture whose colorful characters keep a needlessly complicated story afloat.

The opening scene introduces us to Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), a British agent tasked with tracking down a device known as “the Handle” that is worth billions. No one knows for sure what it is, just that it’s highly prized. The trail points in the direction of noted arms dealer Greg Simmonds (the excellent Hugh Grant). Getting close to him will not be easy. Jasmine’s boss (Eddie Marsan) informs him that the mission will need an outside-the-box approach, a ruse de guerre. To that end, Jasmine calls in Orson Fortune (Jason Statham), a special agent who is as unorthodox as he is lethal. Fortune brings along a team including computer expert Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and expert marksman JJ Davies (rapper Bugzy Malone).

Fortune knows that Simmonds is obsessed with Hollywood action star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett). With that in mind, he blackmails Danny into crashing a charity gala Simmonds is hosting on his yacht. The actor is terrified of being close to dangerous people. Fortune convinces him that it’s just another performance and he should “play yourself.” That proves enough of a nudge. The scheme works, as Danny gets invited to his admirer’s Turkish villa. It’s a big break, one that comes with the potential to uncover real leads, yet opens up more hazards. Meanwhile, Fortune has to contend with a second team, led by a former colleague, that’s also trying to track down the Handle.

Keeping tabs on Operation Fortune’s plot is intermittently tricky. A lot of names and bits of information are tossed out casually, meaning you can’t let your mind wander for a second. The Handle is, of course, just a MacGuffin whose function is eventually explained, although what it does is less important than the fact that everybody wants it. The pursuit offers Statham an opportunity to do a few of his trademark fighting moves. Those brawling scenes are staged effectively, as are the frequent chases and shootouts. Action comes on a regular basis, often with a zany angle, as when bad guys chase Danny and Sarah through a tunnel, unaware that there's a helicopter armed with missiles on the other end, waiting to annihilate them.

The biggest pleasure of Operation Fortune is the characterization. Watching these disparate people – the sarcastic no-nonsense leader, the anxious movie star, the egotistical arms dealer, the inappropriately snarky computer whiz, etc. – bounce off each other is funny. The screenplay has lots of clever one-liners. When, for example, Sarah tells Fortune that the front of a house he needs to escape is clear, he goes out the back by accident, only to be confronted by two goons. He later yells at her for bad intel, to which she responds that he should have realized he’d gone out the wrong door. “Most people keep their Olympic-size swimming pools in the back yard,” she quips. Ritchie indulges in nice little character beats too, like Fortune becoming distracted from a theft when he notices Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid playing on a TV.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre doesn’t reinvent the wheel story-wise, and Aubrey Plaza’s weirdo schtick is slightly out of sync with the comedic style her costars create together. The movie is fun nevertheless, thanks to cool action scenes and even cooler emphasis on how these eccentric characters interact in a high-stress situation.

out of four

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is rated R for language and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.