Review: Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Jason Statham in an underpowered Guy Ritchie spy flick.


It's been a while since anyone went to the trouble of making a James Bond knockoff, but here comes Guy Ritchie to take a fresh whack at it. Back in the mid-1960s, after Goldfinger supercharged the nascent 007 franchise, the movie landscape swarmed with Bond rips. They ranged from kind-of-entertaining (James Coburn's Our Man Flint) to fairly bearable (Dean Martin's Matt Helm series) to altogether dire Euro spy junk (worst in show: Il vostro super agente Flit, an Italian knockoff of the Coburn knockoff). As lame as a lot of this stuff was, it all fed into the Austin Powers movies of the 1990s, which were fun, and then, a couple years ago, into the flamboyantly violent Kingsman pictures, about a secret spy agency headquartered inside a bespoke menswear shop on London's Savile Row. The Kingsman movies demonstrated that the old pop-espionage world of the Bond films, however remote in time, was still resonant.

So the new Ritchie picture sounds promising at first. Whatever you think of his movies—the cockney gangster films he started out with, the Sherlock Holmes pictures with Robert Downey Jr., the Will Smith version of Aladdin (a billion-dollar hit at the world box office)—Ritchie's work, however overamped, is seldom less than lively. But in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre he seems to take a wrong turn at every turn, starting with the constipated title. A ruse de guerre, for those who weren't expecting a French quiz at the movies, would be a sneaky military strategy intended to deceive an enemy. As for the Operation Fortune part, that refers to the story's protagonist, whose name is Fortune—Orson Fortune, I'm afraid.

Orson is played by Ritchie's longtime collaborator, the stubbly butt-whomper Jason Statham. Statham is an unlikely fit for a character who is a pain in the neck for the intelligence agencies that employ him because he'll only fly private, only drink "the finest clarets," and only undergo any necessary post-mission rehab in the expensively sunny Maldives. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't think of Jason Statham as a "finest clarets" kind of guy.

Orson's mission this time out is difficult to grasp. Something tech-y has been stolen…by somebody…and we're not told what or who for a good long while. Obviously, an unidentified something or other is going to be hard to find (although it's quickly given an inscrutable name: "The Handle"). But Orson's controller, Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), has every confidence in his man's bloodhounding talents. So Orson is soon assembling a team, which includes a computer whisperer named Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza, her trademark disdain dialed down by about a third); a muscular factotum named JJ (English rapper Bugzy Malone, distributing exposition); and, before long, a Hollywood movie star named Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett, projecting actual star quality). Danny is brought aboard Orson's murky mission when it acquires a suspect, a billionaire weapons dealer named Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant—could anyone look less like a Greg Simmonds than Hugh Grant?). Since Simmonds is some sort of weird fame groupie, Danny has been roped in as bait. "You can't catch this fish with conventional lures," Orson says sagely.

The movie is low on energy (Statham's sudden punch-ups feel perfunctory), under-edited, and persistently unpersuasive. The filmmakers' need to globe-hop on a budget results in traditional cost-cutting deficiencies like the shot in which a chyron tells us we're in Madrid, but all we actually see is Orson getting off a plane. There's a cocktail scene set on the deck of a luxury yacht in the harbor at Cannes that isn't quite convincing as anything other than a soundstage setup (Ritchie doesn't even rock the camera a little). Other problems are location-related. The movie was filmed mostly in Turkey and partly in Qatar (also the source of some of the production budget), which is why we find the billionaire Simmonds based in a villa in the provincial Turkish capital of Antalya (where he drives around in a vintage Mustang with California plates). Ritchie lards the picture with beauty shots of this Mediterranean city, as if he were showing us around the iconic sights of the Île-de-France or the Tuscan countryside; since he's not, the Bondian travel-porn effect is blunted.

The actors, at least, are fine, although the script, cowritten by Ritchie and his veteran associates Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, gives them little in the way of breezy lines to work with. If you're going to go to the trouble of signing up Aubrey Plaza for your picture, you should give her some snappy patter. Not things like, "I don't care where we're going, as long as I'm drunk." She manages to deal with that one, but she doesn't look happy about it.