A film review by Craig J. Koban April 20, 2023

OPERATION FORTUNE: 

RUSE DE GUERRE jj
 

2023, R, 102 mins.

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

Directed by Guy Ritchie  /  Written by Ritchie, and Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies
 

 

The somewhat oddly titled OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE (yeah, it doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, does it?) represents the fifth collaboration between director Guy Ritchie and star Jason Statham, who previously worked together on the terribly underrated heist thriller WRATH OF MAN (that film, alongside the very decent THE GENTLEMEN, represented a solid return to form for Ritchie after wallowing in Disney live action remake waters like ALADDIN and the bloated and forgettable KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD). 

Ritchie's latest is an attempt at submerging his stylistic trappings into the globe-trotting espionage thriller, and the resulting film boasts a fairly stellar cast, the cheeky and cocky brand of irreverence that the director is known for, and a handful of decent set pieces.  Unfortunately, no amount of modest fun factor can overlook the fact that OPERATION FORTUNE is a disposable cut and paste affair throughout that never manages to hold a candle up to the very finest that the genre has to offer these days.  

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE this ain't.   

I say this, though: We don't get too many action heroes these days with names as cool sounding as Orson Fortune.   

Orson (played in enjoyable coast mode by Statham) is a crackerjack spy that - as the film is opening - is trying to enjoy some much needed down and me time while on vacation.  As is the case with all spy thrillers, evil is afoot and a new assignment from the British government comes in from Nathan (Cary Elwes), who's placed in charge of putting Orson back into the field with a new team to clean up a very serious mess.  The mess in question is a MacGuffin device of unspeakable power known as "The Handle" that has been stolen out of a top secret South African facility.  Nobody knows what The Handle is or what it can actually do, outside of it being bad if in the wrong kind of bad hands.  After much debate, Orson decides to partake in his new assignment and is teamed up with J.J. (Bugzy Malone) and the obligatory Q-esque tech guru in Sarah (wait...that's Aubrey Plaza!!!).  As this new team acclimates to one another, Orson begins plotting his next big move after discovering that The Handle's is selling on the black market and is being orchestrated by a well connected, filthy rich, and powerful arms dealer, George Simmonds (Hugh Grant, re-teaming with Statham and Ritchie after THE GENTLEMEN).  

This all sounds too easy, of course, but getting close to this well-guarded and dangerous man will require an elaborate game of deception.  Because Greg is a celebrity worshipping fanboy of the highest order, Orson elects to seek out and black mail big Hollywood star Danny Francesco (wait...that's Josh Hartnett!!!) and coerces him to join his team in infiltrating one of Greg's massive upcoming parties (it appears that Orson and his squad have some seriously bad dirt on poor Danny that would all but end his career).  With the reluctant and scared movie star in tow, Orson and Sarah manage to get into the exclusive party, and once Greg meets Danny he becomes very smitten and star struck with the actor (BTW, Orson poses as Danny's manager and Sarah as his girlfriend).  The more time that Danny spends with Greg the more their fake bromance begins to simmer (the crime boss is enamored with Danny's movie exploits, whereas Danny starts to get infatuated with the criminal's lifestyle, which includes restoring some of the prized vehicles that were used in some of his movies).  This opening half or so of OPERATION FORTUNE is arguably its best as it introduces us to all of these players with multiple motivations, not to mention that the whole meet and greet between Orson and Danny is quite humorous.  The latter is shown as a control freak man-child on his sets, but when Orson comes knocking and informs him that he'll need to become a part of the mission (or else!), the actor is reduced to emotional Jell-O.  It's also a hoot seeing George - a man of refinement and taste that enjoys the affluent lifestyle to the max, but deep down is corrupt to the core - get intoxicated by Danny and lets his guard down when around him.   

 

 

Hugh Grant has this manner of playing despicable and immoral baddies with great ease and relish, and his mischievous portrayal of this vile arms dealer is one of OPERATION FORTUNE's giddy highlights.  Also well cast is Hartnett himself as the egomaniacal Hollywood heartthrob that gets a massive reality pill being shoved down his throat when he's blackmailed to partake in Orson's fairly risky mission (and, yes, this story arc bares more than a fleeting resemblance to that in THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT that featured Nicholas Cage playing himself getting embroiled with a CIA agent and a top secret mission).  Whenever Hartnett and/or Grant are on screen together there's a noticeable pulse of comedic intrigue that permeates the picture.  It's amusing to see both George and Danny get so enraptured by each other's presence, more so for the latter, seeing as he seems constantly on edge and terrified of being hopelessly out of his element.

I just wish that the rest of the terrific ensemble here built around Grant and Hartnett were better realized and utilized.  Take, for instance, Statham's cool and collected Orson, who is established as a secret agent of the highest order that - we're informed through some throwaway dialogue - has a series of phobias that make him a dicey person for Nathan to hire in the first place.  Question: why introduce this character trait, and then do absolutely nothing with it?  Like...at all?  This would have given Statham some glorious material to work with and the comedic possibilities of seeing this Ethan Hunt-ian character get scared easily in the field could have made OPERATION FORTUNE stand apart.  Alas, Orson is in one-note/kick-ass mode throughout, which certainly plays into Statham's wheelhouse, for sure, but it doesn't make the character all that interesting (all in all, Orson could have been handpicked and hijacked from any other B-grade spy thriller and inserted in here).  And what a horrendous waste of Aubrey Plaza's considerable comedic talents here.  More or less, she spends much of her time staring at computer screens and dishing out Intel and instructions to her team members, and all while appearing to have a snarky pun for any occasion.  This would be fun if the jokes that Plazza was given actually stuck to landing and elicited genuine laughs, but most of her lines seem either forced or grain inducing.  Considering some of the colorful and eccentric weirdoes that have populated so many of Ritchie's best films, it's ultimately disappointing to see most of the cast here - sans Grant and Hartnett - playing dull and interchangeable character types that seem beneath the director and actors' talents.     

OPERATION: FORTUNE has the requisite look down pat and is filled to the rim with exquisite-looking locations, finely dressed heroes and villains, high-tech gadgets, and instances of rough and rugged action laced with comedy (I greatly enjoyed one sly scene involving Orson engaging in a home invasion, but he abruptly stops his mission when he sees BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID playing on a nearby TV), not to mention a recurring subplot involving Danny's near teary-eyed reunion with a prized Ford Mustang.  There's a lot of untapped promise in OPERATION FORTUNE, but so much of what actually transpires in it comes off as oddly inert and lacking in true intrigue.  Many of the characters are simply not colorful enough to command my interest, the decent action beats are strangely strung out and few and far between, and the potentially frightening MacGuffin at the heart of it all (and the quest by all to attain it) never really pays off in an exciting fashion (the film's final sections feel paradoxically rushed and too padded, causing momentum issues as the story runs out of breath while trying to cross the finish line).  And, yeah, there's a sequel bait ending, but I highly doubt that this film will get a sequel in the first place.

OPERATION: FORTUNE should have been a relative genre home run for Ritchie and company, and coming off of a mini-career resurgence for the filmmaker, it represents a slight step backwards for him.  The film is more lukewarm and tired than it is piping hot and exhilarating, and considering the other extraordinary examples of the genre that have come out in recent times, this one had its work cut out for it.  Maybe the film's somewhat troubled production history had something to do with it being so uneven (it was originally shot in 2021 and was supposed to be released in early 2022, but because the original cut featured Ukrainian henchmen working for the villain, the makers thought it would be in bad taste to release it at the same time of Russia's invasion of Ukraine).  Regardless of the reported tinkering that occurred with the final product, changing one troublesome element did not appear to save OPERATION FORTUNE as a whole.  It's no wonder that this film got unceremoniously dumped in a small handful of cinemas and then quickly to streaming on Amazon Prime.  This is an obvious 007-wannabe (with Ritchie-branded shenanigans) through and through, but one that's not equal to challenge in most respects and is, sadly to say, not worthy of anyone's time and investment.

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