How has it taken this long for Guy Ritchie to make his own Mission: Impossible-style spy movie? The Man from UNCLE, which is great by the way, comes close. We know he’s got the action chops, the cool, quotable dialogue, and of course, Jason Statham in his back pocket. And yet it’s taken until now for Ritchie to finally bring us Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, and the wait was well worth it.
Let’s be honest; with the exception of Aladdin, the Guy Ritchie formula doesn’t change all that much. His movies are unabashedly masculine, full of pithy one-liners and tons of action. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just good to see Ritchie doing what he’s good at in service of an enjoyable, exciting spy caper, one that also makes the best use of Statham and Aubrey Plaza. Statham, who has been side-by-side with Ritchie for much of his filmmaking career, plays Orson Fortune, a name that screams SUPERSPY!!! Well, that’s exactly what he is. Fortune is an elite agent for the British government, one who comes with a high price tag and a lot of luxuries. But, since he’s played by Statham, he also has a menacing, cocky attitude about everything. He’s also damn near invincible and untouchable.
Fortune is yanked from vacation by his boss, Nathan (Cary Elwes), who passes down orders and engages in witty banter like James Bond does with M. He needs Fortune to track down The Handle, a mysterious McGuffin that if fallen into the wrong hands could lead to some kind of global disaster. Nobody can really say. Literally for much of the movie NOBODY knows what The Handle actually is. They just know it needs to be found and found quickly.
The best part of any elite team movie is watching the team actually come together. Fortune recruits some muscle in JJ Davies, played by British rapper Bugzy Malone, and a mouthy computer hacker/femme fatale Sarah Fidel, played beautifully by Aubrey Plaza. Ritchie’s movies always have a woman or two in them but rarely has an actress had this sizable, and enjoyable, role to play. She is, at times, a comedic foil to Statham while also a sexy love interest, a brilliant mastermind, and more. And Plaza, who has been on a roll lately since expanding the type of projects she takes on, damn near steals the entire movie.
Steering away from the M:I, Bourne, and Bond formulas we know so well, Operation Fortune is equal parts comedy and covert action. Josh Hartnett, doing his best Keanu Reeves impression, plays Hollywood actor Danny Francesco. Danny is convinced/blackmailed into joining the mission as a means of ensnaring billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), who is Danny’s biggest fan and once tried to pay him $10M just to jump out of a birthday cake. Danny refused. With Danny aboard, Sarah as his girlfriend, and Fortune posing as the most intimidating business manager ever, the game is afoot.
The fun of Operation Fortune is that it doesn’t stop to go through the motions of your typical espionage film or heist thriller. Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, fills the movie with macho bravado, but in unexpected ways. There’s a bromance that develops between Danny and Greg, with the actor effectively wooed by the latter’s fanboy-ish devotion. There’s a great scene where Danny learns that Greg has all of the cars he ever drove in a movie, including his personal favorite, a gorgeous red-and-white striped Mustang. The look on Danny’s face is something close to when a kid falls in love for the first time. One of the best arcs of the film is Danny’s discovery that playing a version of himself is the role of his career.
Statham gets to sketch out one of the best characters he’s ever had a shot to play. Of course, he gets all of the best fights, with Ritchie coming up with some cleverly-staged action that also makes use of Statham’s gift for comedy. Fortunate is a character well-rounded enough that we actually want to see more adventures with him in it, and alongside this ragtag group he’s surrounded by. Ritchie hasn’t had a full-blown franchise under his charge since Sherlock Holmes, and he’s long overdue. Operation Fortune is a kick to the ass of the spy genre, and I can’t wait to see these agents get back out into the field.
Operation Fortune opens in theaters on March 3rd.