Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE is the first of two Guy Ritchie films released in 2023. They came out so close together because this one was delayed more than a year for reasons reportedly including the pandemic, the bad luck of featuring Ukrainian gangsters right when Ukraine was invaded, and restructuring of distributor STX. I swear I heard it was going straight to video at one point, but then it suddenly hit theaters pretty much out of the blue, with predictably poor response.

It’s another Ritchie-Statham collab (their fifth), but not a gangster movie. Instead it’s a light-hearted spy caper, not an all-out comedy, but very jokey. It’s got the usual spy stuff: planting trackers, facial recognition software, meeting with buyers, pulling people into vans. And their mission takes them into the world of the super-duper rich, on yachts, in mansions, private jets, charity parties, bodyguards, art collections, jewelry auctions. A team of crafty good guys have to earn the trust of billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, CLOUD ATLAS) before he sells a dangerous device called The Handle.

The spin that makes this a little different from a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE narratively is that the agents are private contractors, and it’s a very competitive field. This guy Knighton (Eddie Marsan, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED) represents one agency of the British government, he hires Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes, THE BRIDE) to put together a team for him, and Nathan insists on getting “the usual chap,” Orson Fortune (Jason Statham, DEATH RACE), to which Knighton says, “Oh, fuck!” A kinda funny idea here is that Orson has a reputation for being a pain in the ass not because he plays by his own rules or whatever, but because he has a bunch of phobias that are expensive to accommodate for. And then the second layer of that is that he doesn’t really – those are just his excuses to make them pay for him to have a private jet stocked with a bunch of wine (“medicinal requirements”), and send him on “rehabilitation retreat” vacations in exotic locales whenever he’s not working.

Orson is happy to have “footman” J.J. Davies (British rapper Bugzy Malone) on the assignment with him, but frustrated that he doesn’t get to have “John, the comms man” (Nicholas Facey) because John “got poached” by the competition, Mike Hook (Peter Ferdinando, GHOST IN THE SHELL). Instead he gets a “fabulous replacement,” Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza, CHILD’S PLAY), who formerly worked for Mike.

Similar to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE they start by going to an airport (this one in Madrid) trying to intercept a small object (this time a hard drive) from a courier, with Sarah watching security feeds on her laptop, feeding them information over their earpieces. Their agents start getting tased one by one, not by the Ukrainian gangsters they’re looking for, but by Mike and his team, who got hired by a different British agency and could get the big pay day instead of Orson’s team. Throughout the movie they have their mission and then they have these other assholes trying to steal it out from under them.

When they fail to intercept the Handle and it falls into Simmonds’ hands they come up with a far-fetched plan to get to him. First they find dirt on the billionaire’s favorite movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett, BUNRAKU) and blackmail him into working for them. There’s a pretty funny scene where Orson ambushes the entitled actor on his private jet and announces that he’s his new business manager. They bring him to a Cannes war orphan charity party on Simmonds’ yacht, with Sarah posing as his girlfriend under the (correct, it turns out) theory that rich guys want whatever they’re told they can’t have, so he’ll try to steal his favorite actor’s girlfriend. Danny also appeals to his ego by claiming to be preparing for a role as “a mysterious self-made billionaire who goes on a transcendental journey from material genius to spiritual giant,” so Simmonds invites them all to his private island while Danny shadows him for research. They play their roles, sneak around, try to steal things, dodge pouty suspicious henchwoman Emilia (Lourdes Faberes, NO TIME TO DIE), chase sleazy consigliere Ben Harris (Max Beesley, THE LAST MINUTE, TORQUE, touring keyboardist for The Brand New Heavies), and there are twists and chases and shoot outs and what not. Also helicopters. No motorcycles, sadly. Or scuba.

Based on the movie’s poor reception I was worried it could be painfully unfunny. That’s not the case. There are a few laughs, and jokes aren’t the primary emphasis anyway. Danny’s part of the story is the most comedic, and there’s some fairly amusing stuff around his terror of going undercover, then getting into it as an acting role and enjoying it as an ego stroke, before actually getting pretty good at it. I like all the scary criminals being starstruck around him, and the gimmick that Simmonds owns the original stunt car from his most famous movie, so Danny gets to drive it in an actual chase. There’s a little bit of THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT here, and Hartnett is good casting for a self-involved, pretty dumb, but basically likable Hollywood doofus.

Plaza’s role is an unusual combination of the comic relief sidekick and the babe. She plays it closer to her familiar wiseass comedy persona than her great dramatic performance in EMILY THE CRIMINAL or her darkly funny psycho in INGRID GOES WEST, but her character is very good at the computer stuff and competent at the undercover seduction – it’s not the in-over-her-head role most comedians would be given. She also gets to wear fancy dresses and retro outfits she wouldn’t get to in most of her movies. But sometimes when she does the (purposely) corny spycraft talk – “I’ll control the turntables, you the dance floor. You like to dance?” – she could almost be her Parks & Recreation character’s joke alter ego Janet Snakehole. It’s an odd fit that I don’t think entirely works, but the oddness also makes it kinda interesting.

They don’t have her know kung fu or anything but they do have one “doesn’t she look cool firing a gun?” part.

When in Rome, I guess. (When in a Guy Ritchie movie.)

Statham’s role is pretty standard for him, which is a good thing. Orson is funny because he’s belligerent and kind of a fuckup but also he’s cool because he can fight and he looks and sounds like Jason Statham and that’s been proven to be a plus for motion pictures. This time he wears tuxes and drinks lots of wine but they never lose track of the fact that we want to see him punching guys real hard. The fight coordinator is Vincent Wang (THE GREAT WALL), who also plays a henchman named Vincent and has a fight against Statham. Stunt coordinator is Mark Mottram (THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS).

Grant is fine, using his famous charm in a villain role. It’s not the delightfully sleazy, kinda over-the-top type of villain he’s been doing lately – in fact it’s kind of refreshing that Simmonds doesn’t really have a secretly evil side. His job is evil, but he is sincerely trying to be friends with these people, and is hurt when he finds out he’s being lied to. The movie’s probly too forgiving of him at the end, but at least it’s a little different from the standard formula evil billionaire.

Ritchie got his start as a particularly show-offy director, but over time has developed many variations of his style, and ways of modulating between keeping it under control and letting it go wild. The opening got me thinking he’d be extra playful on this one – he has Nathan walking down a hall to his meeting, his loud footsteps making a beat, and it’s intercut with gritty, handheld silent footage of the robbery he’s about to be told about. I took it as a tribute to POINT BLANK, both its opening and its ahead-of-its-time editing techniques. There’s more of Ritchie’s casual non-linear storytelling (editor: James Herbert, EDGE OF TOMORROW), and he has fun with Sarah talking to them over their headsets by giving her an actual microphone and shooting her like the DJ in THE WARRIORS. But for the most part the filmatism isn’t too eventful. It’s pretty much what you expect.

I’m of the opinion that Ritchie has been on kind of a roll the last decade. I have not seen THE GENTLEMEN, but everything else he’s done post-SHERLOCK HOLMES has been interesting, at least. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and WRATH OF MAN are two of my favorites he’s ever done, KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD is an enjoyably deranged Ritchie-fication of the big budget Fantasy Sword Guy genre, and even ALADDIN was a little better than it sounds and not necessarily what other directors would’ve done with that gig. The big sin of OPERATION FORTUNE is not being particularly terrible, but just very middle-of-the-road. They might be having fun but nobody is working up to their abilities.

It wasn’t so surprising to read that they were somewhat making it up as they went along. Ritchie told Collider, “I didn’t like the script when I started, and that was sort of the challenge. It was something that I cobbled up with a couple of chaps that I worked with and it was a bit of a feathery fish. And the challenge was how to make it a less feathery fish. And so we just rewrote every scene on the day in this film almost completely.”

So the half-assed release isn’t so tragic. If you gotta throw away a Ritchie movie, it might as well be the one that was a throw away for him. And luckily, he had that other one that came out less than two months later in the U.S. In the tradition of “Barbenheimer” I decided to do “The Fortunant” and watch the ’23 Ritchie films back-to-back. I’m happy to say that GUY RITCHIE’S THE COVENANT is much better than OPERATION FORTUNE, as I will discuss with you tomorrow.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 18th, 2023 at 7:13 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Comedy/Laffs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre”

  1. And starring Cary Elwes too. It’s official–Mission Impossible Part 1 of The Dead Reckoning is just an Americanized reboot of Operation Fortune. Part 2 is going to be all about using the Entity’s favorite celebrity to get close to it.

  2. I think the consensus here about THE UNBEARABLE WEIGHT OF MASSIVE TALENT was that while it was fun it wasn’t Cage-specific enough; with a bit of work it could’ve been made with any movie star. My response to OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE was, “Oh well, apparently you can’t make TUWOMT with Josh Hartnett.”

    That’s not really fair to Hartnett, as he and Grant have the best of this, but what I remember most was the weight of disappointment. It’s fine to say that it’s not supposed to be a comedy, but what is it then? It’s not a thriller: Ritchie’s experiments with non-linear storytelling constantly have Statham rushing to or from action, while the action itself is saved for some other – less thrilling – point in the narrative. I’m all for blurring genre boundaries and making wild swings of tone, but they need to deliver for the audience, not just scratch the director’s dollar store Christopher Nolan itch. It’s a real shame as Statham and Plaza can be hilarious, and WRATH OF MAN really was among the best things Ritchie has done.

  3. It’s too bad, because as soon as I said I’d watch Aubrey Plaza in anything, this movie has to show up.

    I had heard an early cut of this involved Ukrainian mobsters stealing orphans or something, and the re-editing was minimal reshoots and a whole lot of scotch taping, so I think that accounts for the main threat here not being terribly interesting or specific. Sometimes, we have to throw our hands up and admit that it’s hard to make a movie, and often for reasons out of our control it just doesn’t work out (as opposed to the faceless creators out there only interested in cranking out content).

    I do hope, however, that Orson Fortune can be repurposed to pop up in someone else’s movie down the line, like how Frank Martin shows up at the beginning of “Collateral”.

  4. I really enjoyed THE GENTLEMEN. I was a bit disappointed that Ritchie returned at this point in his career to his old “Convoluted story about a bunch of colorful assholes who step on each other’s toes, sometimes on purpose but mostly by accident, that manages to be absolutely hilarious and uncomfortably grim and violent at the same time and ties up all storylines beautifully at the end” bag of tricks, but man, does he know how do that kind of movie!

  5. I’m one of the five people who saw this in the theaters, and I found it enjoyable if a bit slapdash. I felt at the time that they needed a couple more goes at the script, so I’m not all that surprised that they actually were rewriting it as they went along. I do think the actors all sell it, though. Everyone seems to be having a good time, and it’s surprisingly good natured for a spy movie.

  6. Vern, you really need to see The Gentlemen. It’s basically a love letter to The Long Good Friday at its’ core, but with more humor.

  7. You’d think if that Red Dawn reboot could reshoot and CGI and ADR Chinese invaders into being North Korean, this could’ve made the bad guys Estonian gangsters or something. I’m assuming they didn’t spent all their screentime waving Ukrainian flags around…

  8. Glad u watched THE COVENANT, Vern and are reviewing it. For me, that’s simply one of the best things Ritchie has done recently.

    OPERATION FORTUNE: FANCY SCHMANCY FRENCH SUB TITLE is….ok, although challenge me to recollect anything about it’s plot (I saw it about 3 months ago) now and I’ll throw in the towel straight away. As far as Statham joints go, it’s thankfully not the train wreck (or should that be boat wreck?) I thought THE MEG 2 was, although keeping my fingers crossed EXPEND4BLES turns out to be a little more Part 2 and a lot less Part 3.

  9. And one accidental result of the Ukraine conflict is that they are finally learning some morsels of the region’s tumultuous history in Western countries. Many good documentaries on the subject.

    Bury Your Dead:

    Or Harvest of Despair:

    Even poetry.

  10. Oh, if we’re gonna talk MEG 2: THE TRENCH, I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than OPERATION FORTUNE: PAIN AU CHOCOLAT. MEG 2 had some fun callbacks to the first movie that I hadn’t expected – the little dog, the Thai pop covers, Page Kennedy’s character arc – and it never felt like Wheatley didn’t know what he was doing or what his points of reference were, even if I wanted less DEEPSTAR SIX and more JAWS 2. In the final act Wu Jing gets to channel his inner Jackie, to amusing effect, and [SPOILER] Statham takes out a Meg with a helicopter blade, in direct response to all those who thought that the first movie didn’t have enough Meg-on-helicopter action. As far as I’m concerned Statham and Wheatley can make a load more of these, although next time can we see Statham and Wu Jing fight each other, please?

  11. I was stunned at how much better MEGS was than the first one. Not that that’s a high bar to clear. It puts itself on a higher strata of storytelling intelligence simply by putting in the effort to concoct scenarios in which land-dwelling humans are convincingly compelled to be in contact with water-dwelling sharks for adequate lengths of time, rather than just have people fall off a boat every 30 seconds the way the first one did. It also had the great idea to let Statham punch people, something that has historically been proven to be an entertaining thing to put in a motion picture, and didn’t force him, seemingly at gunpoint, to smile at inane banter like he was in a Hallmark Christmas movie. Like I said, the bar was low, but 2 MEG 2 TRENCH hopped over it handily.

  12. Is it weird that the non-existence of my enthusiasm for MEG 2 came from its director and not from that fact that it was the sequel to an already underwhelming movie? (Although I admit recently CINEMA WINS [Yes, WINS, not that other shitty channel] and DEAD MEAT did a good job at making part 1 way more fun than it actually is.)

  13. I still don’t quite know what to make of Wheatley. I liked FREE FIRE, hated KILL LIST (a canary-in-the-coal-mine warning us of the many tedious, glacially paced WICKER MAN ripoffs that would be coming down the pike), haven’t been able to make myself watch HIGH RISE despite admiring the source novel, not really interested in anything else he’s done. (Who remakes Hitchcock’s most boring movie?) He’s hard to pin down. Half of his filmography seems to be the kind of dreary anti-genre genre stuff I hate, but the other half shows that he’s capable of removing the stick from his ass when he wants to. You never know what you’re gonna get with this guy, and I respect that.

  14. I think it depends on what your objection to Wheatley is CJ. If you dislike the clever on the outside, hollow on the inside, look-at-me I’m-better-than-this-stuff approach of much of Wheatley’s work, I’d say it wasn’t weird at all. I’m just saying that MEG 2 is dumb on the outside, pretty hollow on the inside, but wholly lacking in the genre disdain that critics (elsewhere) seem to love and I hate.

  15. I’m actually surprised that you liked FREE FIRE, which was one of the most incompetent movies done by actual professionals that I have ever seen. It’s really just a flick about a bunch of people being in the same room while shooting at each other, but 99% of the time you have no idea where everybody is and who is shooting at whom. Not to mention that they telegraphed the only survivor in the most ham-fisted way right from the beginning. This is a movie that actually made me feel insulted. Even as a post-PULP FICTION DTV bandwagon jumper this would’ve been absolutely unacceptable bullshit.

  16. I think the disorientation is the point. Nobody in that room knows where anybody else is either. They’re just shooting in the dark, hoping they hit something and usually failing. It’s not a shootout, it’s a shitshow. It’s closer to the acorns than to John Woo. I liked that. I feel like that’s what it would really be like if a bunch of amateur gunmen started blasting at each other without any training or tactics.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about with the telegraphing of the survivor though so I guess it didn’t bother me much.

  17. Fucking spellcheck. The COENS, not the acorns.

  18. Nah, sorry, that “nobody knows where everybody is so we won’t let the audience know either” approach might be acceptable for one short action scene, but not for the whole movie. Maybe someone more capable would pull it off (I’m sure its executive producer Scorsese would totally nail it), but this movie was really just 90 minutes of annoying pseudo-tough guys in 70s cosplay rolling around in the dirt, yelling at each other and pointing their guns at wherever they feel like. The Coens would at least added some memorable characters and quotable dialogue. And I can’t imagine them not caring for the visual side of it like Wheatley did.

  19. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 19th, 2023 at 2:46 pm

    I too thought MEG 2 was pretty entertaining and provided more of the shenanigans you would hope to see in a movie with this premise than the first one did. BUT then it was also a major step down from the first one in terms of quality of the CGI – where the first one looked quite good most of the time, this barely looked better than a random SHARKNADO sequel, and that really had an impact on my enjoyment of it.

    Overall, they are still not delivering the film I really want to see, the film they could make based on the first novel, and that is a damn fucking shame. Nobody has made a great shark movie since DEEP BLUE SEA came out in 1999… it’s getting a little embarassing now honestly.

  20. My issue with MEH 2 is in it’s attempt to give you both a Statham actioner and a creature feature but failing at both,

    And having Wu Jing in your movie and not have him throw a single punch or kick automatically gets your movie tossed in the EPIC FAIL bin as far as I’m concerned.

  21. Gaul, have you seen BAIT? I admit to not being able to remember how good it was exactly but it was a high concept shark movie that was surprisingly good. Although of course not DEEP BLUE SEA good, but what is?

  22. I think “It’s closer to the acorns than to John Woo” should be used on more posters!

  23. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 19th, 2023 at 10:55 pm

    CJ – BAIT from 2012, people trapped in a supermarket with sharks? I haven’t seen that one actually, although I remember having seen either a trailer or a clip at the time and not being impressed enough to check it out. I’ll have to see if I can find it on Netflix or Amazon and give it another shot!

  24. Yeah, that one. It’s been a while since I saw it, but I remember it not being an instant classic, yet competent in the best way. I think I referred to it as “like a SyFy original movie if they would actually care about making them good” somewhere.

  25. BAIT was indeed quite good. I remember stumbling upon on TV one late night, and staying the whole 90 minutes. Mostly because it was Australian and written by Russell Mulcahy.

  26. haven’t been able to make myself watch HIGH RISE despite admiring the source novel

    As someone who also admires the novel, I made myself watch it (thank you public library), and it’s not good.
    Anything that was brutal about the novel, change that to ‘BROOTAL’, and there you go.

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