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Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Guy Ritchie's "Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre" is a strangely limp affair, considering the loaded cast (Jason Statham, Hugh Grant, Aubrey Plaza, Cary Elwes), the glamorous international locations (Madrid! Morocco! Cannes!), and the general fun of a high-speed chase to track down a MacGuffin of potentially world-ending proportions. But something's missing—stakes, for one. Nothing is on the line. Ritchie's story style usually involves messing about with structure and linearity, twisting up the format with feints, and flashbacks, all powered by fast-paced, witty snarky dialogue. None of that is really in evidence in "Operation Fortune." The characters never take shape, not even as caricatures. There are elements of parody, but "Operation Fortune" is not broad enough to be a spoof. It's weirdly empty. 

Jason Statham plays Orson Fortune, an in-demand operative called in by the British government on occasion to execute difficult tasks of national importance. The British government here is represented by Nathan (Cary Elwes), whose job is keeping the unreliable Orson on track. Orson, we are told before we meet him, has a host of phobias, making him a risky hire. But then Orson appears, and he seems like an average laconic-speaking action hero. He boards multiple planes throughout, enduring long international flights with no sign of phobia. So many missed possibilities for humor! Why set up the phobia and then not show it at all?

Should Orson choose to accept it, the task is to track down a stolen briefcase that contains a mysterious object about to be sold on the black market, the shady underworld of arms dealers, drug runners, state secrets, and other nefarious transactions. Nobody knows what's in the briefcase, but whatever it is is so dangerous it must not get into the wrong hands. (The mystery of what's in the briefcase is not revealed until halfway through the film. This is meant to be suspenseful but has the opposite effect.) Orson puts together his small team: J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone), who spends a lot of time staring at GPS screens and reporting locations, and Sara Fidel (Aubrey Plaza), a computer expert who can hack into anything. Their first operation is infiltrating an extremely elite party hosted by billionaire George Simonds (Hugh Grant) on his yacht. Simonds hangs out with a very sketchy group, including two creeps in "biotech" and a roving band of drunken thieves, all of whom also want the briefcase.  

Since getting invited to this party is impossible, the team blackmails an unwitting movie star named Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), hoping he will be celebrity catnip for the cagey Simonds. It works. With Danny out in front, Orson posing as Danny's manager, and Sara posing as Danny's girlfriend, the trio gains access to the party. George lights up at the sight of Danny Francesco, the movie star! Hugh Grant, who was so hilarious in Ritchie's "The Gentlemen," is rather inert here. However, the performance does have its high points (his insinuating deadened voice oozing corruption, his flat gray hair, his tinted glasses calling to mind Jim Jones or Robert Evans. He comes across as a cooing dead-eyed gargoyle.) Hijinx, lies, and near-misses ensue. The caper is complicated by warring groups of independent contractors, all after the briefcase, who must be shut down by any means necessary. 

What is missing overall is eccentricity. Ritchie's films are usually filled with eccentric nuts, replete with quirks and weird vocal patterns and gestures. The characters in "Operation Fortune" are generic by comparison. The spy team's interactions lack the sizzle of conflict, even humor. J.J. is nondescript. Sara is supposed to be nerdy and awkward (but only intermittently), the kind of person who tries and fails to crack jokes. When no one laughs, she explains the joke. This happens multiple times but doesn't coalesce into a "bit." Plaza spends most of the film staring at a computer screen, a waste of one of the most talented actresses working today. Orson is supposed to be phobia-ridden, which could have been a lot of fun, but he is mainly indistinct. These are all funny actors, but nobody gets to be funny. 

Excepting Josh Hartnett. Danny starts as your garden-variety egotistical movie star but slowly morphs into a different kind of man through the traumatic experience of being whisked away from Hollywood onto a yacht in the Mediterranean by a trio of spies. His is the only real character arc in "Operation Fortune." Every time he's onscreen, the mood lightens. Danny is constantly in giddy confusion, tongue-tied and terrified, out of his element and depth. His journey leads to a coda sparking with welcome cynicism. Danny feels like the central character, but unfortunately, he is peripheral, a sidekick to the blah spies staring at computer screens. 

Even the occasional sarcastic quip—usually so ruthless in Ritchie's scripts—feels warmed-over, obligatory. Nothing pops. There's no point of view. "Operation Fortune" is a caper that doesn't caper at all. 

Now playing in theaters.

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre movie poster

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (2023)

Rated R for language and violence.

114 minutes

Cast

Jason Statham as Orson Fortune

Aubrey Plaza as Sarah Fidel

Josh Hartnett as Danny Franscesco

Hugh Grant as Greg Simmonds

Cary Elwes as Nathan Jasmine

Bugzy Malone as JJ Davies

Peter Ferdinando as Mike

Eddie Marsan as Norman

Lourdes Faberes as Emilia

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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