Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
Guy Ritchie's latest caper turns Jason Statham and Aubrey Plaza into globe-trotting spies, and is happy to stick to the filmmaker's usual formula.
January 12, 2023
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre isn't the best chance to see Aubrey Plaza slink around swanky locales filled with the one-percent in the past year. That honour goes, of course, to her award-nominated turn in the second season of The White Lotus. Plaza's new action-comedy also isn't the best recent movie to cast the deadpan talent as enterprising, resourceful and calculating, and see her plunged into a dangerous, largely male-only realm, all while putting a scheming plan into action. That film is the exceptional Emily the Criminal, which sadly bypassed cinemas Down Under. And, thanks to her star-making turn in Parks and Recreation, wannabe franchise-starter Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre definitely isn't the finest example of her wry comic talents, either. But in a rarity for writer/director Guy Ritchie and his typically testosterone-dripping capers — see: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver, RocknRolla and The Gentlemen — Plaza is the gleaming gem at the centre of this formulaic flick. Putting in a more vibrant performance than the scowling Jason Statham isn't hard, but this is firmly Plaza's picture.
Ritchie's go-to leading man still plays Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre's namesake, though: the improbably titled super-spy Orson Fortune, an off-the-books agent who does jobs the British Government can't officially be involved with. Handler Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes, Best Sellers) has one such task, recovering a just-stolen item known as 'the handle', which the powers-that-be don't want going to nefarious parties. But, in a mission that first requires collecting a contact at Madrid's airport, then gets far more chaotic quickly, Fortune will have to work with a new team. And, he'll have to jet around the globe with stops at Cannes, in Turkey and more, doing an aspiring Bond and Mission: Impossible act, but in a film that never even threatens to shake or stir the espionage genre. It also doesn't venture beyond mixing Ritchie's beloved bag of tricks together, reading like an effort to split the difference between his last two movies: The Gentlemen and effective revenge thriller Wrath of Man.
On-screen, enter Plaza as American tech wiz Sarah Fidel, plus British rapper and actor Bugzy Malone (The Gentlemen) as righthand man JJ Davis. To cosy up to a fake-tanned Hugh Grant (Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery) as international arms dealer Greg Simmonds, also enter Josh Hartnett (The Fear Index) as Hollywood acting big-shot Danny Francesco. The gambit: Simmonds adores Francesco so much that he's bought a car the latter is famous for driving in a movie, so the thespian is the crew's in, with Fidel undercover as his girlfriend and Fortune pretending to be his stern-faced manager. Accordingly, their fresh-faced ring-in will have to inhabit the role he's been born to: himself, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent-style, but without the extra meta layer of a game and entertaining Hartnett actually genuinely doing the same thing. (Nods to everything from Halloween H20, The Faculty and The Virgin Suicides to Sin City and Penny Dreadful would've been a welcome touch here.)
When Statham and Ritchie reteamed for Wrath of Man — which Hartnett also co-starred in — it was the first time they'd collaborated in 16 years. Crucially, and one of the primary reasons it worked so well, it was a lean, mean affair that didn't just feel as if its two key figures were simply doing what they've always done together, even though it was indeed another heist flick. The same can't be said about Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, which endeavours to hoodwink its audience by sometimes similarly adopting a straight-down-the-line tone. That ruse doesn't stick, however, in a film that couldn't paint any more blatantly by Ritchie's usual numbers. He's dallied with spies before, in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre wishes it was that as well.
With its first-billed talent and director comfortably on autopilot, it's no wonder that Plaza, Hartnett and Grant provide the movie's personality. While they don't merely stand out because everything else around them is so routine, a feature this stock-standard puts anything that deviates from its template under a massive magnifying glass. When Plaza isn't engagingly and savvily tackling everything that's thrown Fidel's way, from Fortune's gruff, dismissive demeanour to the Cockney-accented Simmonds' overt attentions — plus chatting modern art as an early distraction technique, and getting thrust into the middle of gunfights and car chases in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre's third act — the film screams for her presence. Hartnett is also having a great time, as is Grant. It never mentions it, but consider this another ode to the Paddington franchise, too, making its audience wish they were rewatching Grant's OTT villainous portrayal in Paddington 2 instead.
In a storyline penned by Ritchie with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, who've both contributed to his past three films in a row now — and do the same with the upcoming The Covenant, which is also due in cinemas in 2023 — Simmonds is in business with violent Ukrainian heavies. Avoiding the movie's MacGuffin from ending up in their hands is the plot's main point, after all. That helps spark those glossily lensed (by Alan Stewart, also a Wrath of Man and The Gentleman alum) but predictable action sequences, and the reported reason that Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre was delayed from its initial 2022 release dates. Whenever it arrived, this was always going to be perfunctory, especially when it wrings zero tension out of the narrative's must-find object. Ritchie and company keep the specifics to themselves for much of the feature, but that doesn't make anyone care what it is — or invest in anything that's going on, a rivalry with a fellow mercenary group led by the one-step-ahead Mike (Peter Ferdinando, The Curse) included.
Covert operatives are meant to slip in, get their high-stakes jobs done and leave their marks none the wiser, at least until their quest is safely achieved. Although that never happens on screens big or small, spy stories themselves aren't supposed to be largely unmemorable as well. Again, Plaza isn't. Neither are Hartnett and Grant, but Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre's high-profile supporting players can't make the picture anything more than average. Here's hoping that any sequel, if it eventuates — which this flick advocates for instantly in its moniker, premise and, naturally, its final scenes — realises where its focus should truly be. Bond mightn't be likely to serve up a female lead yet despite Daniel Craig's farewell, but pushing Plaza to the fore, and changing its title in the process, would be any future Operation Fortune instalment's best move.
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