I’m pretty taken with Director Guy Ritchie’s grounded approach to the very enjoyable Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre. Make no mistake, with Ritchie behind the camera and Jason Statham leading the charge in front of it, this film certainly has a cool factor to work with. However, it’s as if Ritchie wanted to challenge himself by not employing too many flashy tricks, instead relying on the script and the cast to make this slick spy flick come to life. The results are quite entertaining. The plotting is deceptively straightforward, and perhaps the runtime is a little longer than needed, but it’s hard to mind when one is having so much fun.
However, things get off on a curiously generic foot as Cary Elwes’ Nathan Jasmine is brought in by the British government and told to put a squad together to recover some sort of device worth billions. Watching this bit of exposition unfold, I was curious about what would need to happen to make any of this seem more interesting. As it turns out, the film hardly cares about the McGuffin in question. What’s far more important is the team involved and the plan to make this mission a success.
Statham stars as Orson Fortune, a super-spy minus the ludicrousness that made him so funny in Paul Feig’s Spy. Does that hold him back here? Not at all. Statham has such effortless charisma that it takes no effort to believe he’s a guy who’s done all this before and just needs to be pointed in the right direction. Honestly, the fact that there was such a large break between features by Ritchie that starred Statham is a bit of a shame, as the two work well together (Revolver notwithstanding). For Operation Fortune, Statham is the kind of guy who never seems to be in danger, yet that hardly becomes boring.
He’s joined by a few others. Aubrey Plaza is Sarah Fidel, a tech genius who’s also more than ready to play in the field, let alone share plenty of quips with the rest of the team. Rapper Bugzy Malone is J.J., an extra bit of muscle for the squad. But a vital part of this operation is Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), a movie star who is being brought along (via blackmail) to serve as bait for their target, Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), an arms dealer and Danny’s biggest fan.
Honestly, there’s so much fun coming from this set of performers that I can understand why Ritchie would barely do any heavy lifting when it comes to the film’s other, more action-bound antagonist, simply named Mike (Peter Ferdinando). While there’s action to enjoy scattered throughout the film, Operation Fortune coasts along far better when concentrated on banter, spy antics, and an entirely game Hugh Grant eagerly crushing on both his new movie star friend, as well as Plaza’s Sarah, who’s also gone undercover as Danny’s girlfriend.
Even Elwes gets to be in on it all. Despite all signs pointing to him being one of the more affable Hollywood celebrities, he’s so often cast as villains or jerks that audiences rarely see him with that Princess Bride charm in effect. This film doesn’t make him the lead proponent of good, but he gets to be on the side of the heroes and throw out witty dialogue just as well as the rest of the cast in a way that’s refreshing. Given the stable of recurring players Ritchie has found over time, I’m happy to see Elwes palling around here, just as Grant has done so effectively.
Is there much more to say about this story? It’s not as though it’s thin, but it’s also not as if there’s a more significant meaning behind it all. Perhaps some broader themes stand out as they do in most films, but Operation Fortune really does feel like a lark calling to mind his stylish gangster comedies, only fitted with discarded ideas from potential Man From U.N.C.L.E. sequels.
Given how the film’s delay is reportedly due to the attempts to stall the release because of the presence of Ukrainian villains, the film may have unintentionally stepped into something. Still, this film boils down to being a breezy spy flick with just enough edge to qualify its R-rating. With that in mind, it’s not as though it needs to be anything more than it is, especially after Ritchie’s previous feature, the uber-serious Wrath of Man.
The joy is seeing Statham do his thing as well as he ever does, with fun support from Plaza, Hartnett, Elwes, Malone, and Grant. It would seem effortless were Ritchie not feeling as though he’s in a comfort zone that doesn’t just seem like him slumming. Having co-written this story with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, if there are more Operation Fortunes on the horizon, this serves as a nice beginning to a universe I’d be happy to see more of. If not, well, at least it was fun while it lasted.