‘Operation Fortune’ Review: Guy Ritchie’s Long-Delayed Action Comedy Misses the Mark

Even Hugh Grant and Aubrey Plaza can’t penetrate this lackluster spy lark

"Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre"

When it comes to the genre playgrounds he loves so much, is Guy Ritchie better off being himself or playing along? His brash, bad-lad calling cards (“Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”) were never terribly original, but their style-to-burn derivativeness had spirit. His Hollywood larks (“Sherlock Holmes,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) never felt honest but the occasional glimpse of a bruiser’s cockiness made for colorful upgrades in the IP machinery.

After Ritchie’s return to leaner (but never in the dialogue) roots with the comically shaggy, seedy gangster wingding “The Gentlemen,” and reteaming with his best contribution to cinema — Jason Statham — for the brackish vengeance puddle “Wrath of Man,” the British filmmaker is once again aiming for sleek and starry heights with the spy-driven action comedy “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.”

Statham is the “Fortune” of the title, first name Orson, an elite for-hire operative with clever ideas and expensive tastes, hired by intelligence agency rep Nathan (Cary Elwes) to determine who’s interested in a stolen package rumored to be worth $10 billion on the open market. Whatever it is, whoever stole it, and whomever wants it, it can’t be good. But on top of that conundrum Orson is given a new coterie of experts – quick-witted tech ace Sarah (Plaza) and no-nonsense marksman JJ (Bugzy Malone) – and competition in the form of covert ops archrival Mike (Peter Ferdinando).

That’s not a bad set-up for spook shenanigans, even if the first sequence of Orson’s and Mike’s teams vying for the same surveilled target doesn’t quite deliver memorable thrills or laughs. The first injection of mission fun comes when the trail leads to a glitzy charity soiree on the yacht of industrialist and arms dealer Greg Simmonds, played with enjoyably purring sleaze by Grant, still making the most of his swerve into character-actor sordidness. The billionaire’s obsession with a movie star named Danny Francesco (an agreeably superficial Josh Hartnett) puts Orson’s team in an enviable position to infiltrate Greg’s lavish Turkish villa and learn a dangerous international deal’s inner workings.

The problem is that in its lackluster rehash of caper tropes “Operation Fortune” only ever feels like a subpar audition for Ritchie to direct the next 007 film, whereas its winning elements – the returning Statham, “Gentlemen” standout Hugh Grant in another fragrant Cockney accent, and new Ritchie player Aubrey Plaza – remind us of why amusing actors invariably made his movies more entertaining than they deserved to be.

It leaves “Operation Fortune” never knockabout enough to count as antic homage to these types of movies nor suitably thrilling in its save-the-world particulars to be a cracking good time in its own right. It’s like the Vegas simulacrum of a globe-trotting adventure. Whenever you’re primed for the distract-and-snoop thrill of something out of “Mission: Impossible,” or the showdown panache of a Jason Bourne film, or even what Paul Feig did with character humor in outlandish situations in “Spy,” Ritchie stays stuck in a lazy mid-range elegance of wisecracks, gloss, and tidy violence – neither his old guns-guff-and-geezers self nor the prankster inside the system.

As “Operation Fortune” moves along its story, cunning and actor chemistry matters less and less, while the trappings of a spottily organized, blandly exotic merry-go-round – the usual hacked computers, dispatched goons, and snarky one-liners in chic surroundings – take center stage. Ritchie, writing again with collaborators Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, seems afraid of spoiling the vacation sheen (courtesy cinematographer Alan Stewart) with anything like tantalizing interpersonal relationships or genuine danger.

You may not be surprised to learn that Grant seems like he’s in his own movie – a more enjoyably corrupt one – or that the rascally glamorous Plaza feels like only a guest star on Guy Island, not an organic team member. But it’s a little disconcerting how underutilized Statham is as the ostensible star superspy when we know what he can do with better, more comically vigorous material. (See the aforementioned “Spy.”)

Perhaps middle age has made a couple of swagger veterans like Statham and Ritchie feel like they’ve earned the right to coast if the filming location is pretty enough (Turkey and Qatar play themselves, and sub for LA, France, and Spain), the action isn’t too demanding, and every fourth line has just enough sarcastic bite.

Ritchie has always been a performative director, so maybe “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is right in line with his jocular acts of gutter criminality and Hollywood imitations, existing in a kind of touristy netherworld of entertainment – more a handsomely mounted “ruse” of an action comedy than one itself.