If you squint really hard, you might be able to get a glimpse of the kind of film that Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre aspires to be. If things had gone according to plan, the finished product would have been a humorous parody of the Mission: Impossible formula. Instead of that franchise’s high-profile, action-packed spectacle, this one would have been a more low-key, comedic adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is content to coast on its B-movie charms.
And hey, it would be a perfectly acceptable objective for director and co-writer Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham to aim towards. For this reason, it’s a shame that things don’t work out the way they should here. In point of fact, things go very wrong for the most part, and Operation Fortune instead feels like a movie fighting with itself over what it wants to be. This is the case to such an extreme that almost every actor in the cast seems to have a different idea about what kind of movie they’re appearing in.
In the sixth film that Ritchie and Statham have worked on together, the latter actor plays the role of Orson Fortune, a world-class spy who would much rather be on vacation sipping fine wine than out in the field. The film will be released in 2022, following the release of Wrath of Man. Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), a covert special-ops contractor that the British government turns to when they don’t want to get their hands dirty, calls Fortune back into action when a mysterious device known as “The Handle” that could, at the very least, unravel the world’s economy is stolen and offered up for sale to the highest bidder.
Operation Fortune Trailer
Fortune and Jasmine are tasked with finding the seller and the buyer of the stolen technology, in addition to the stolen technology itself. To accomplish this mission, they put together a team of spies in the style of Mission: Impossible, which includes computer expert Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), sharpshooter J.J. (British rapper Bugzy Malone), and American actor Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), who isn’t a spy at all but for reasons, Hugh Grant plays a flirtatious arms dealer who is clearly in “devil may care” mode and rocks a Cockney accent that would make Michael Caine proud. Throughout the course of the movie, they all end up going up against several different groups of terrorists and mercenaries, as well as a flirtatious arms dealer played by Hugh Grant.
There is no logical reason why this shouldn’t be successful. But in order for that to occur, the screenplay needs to be strong enough to make up for a budget that is small by today’s standards for action movies, and the cast needs to be united on a common goal, regardless of whether that goal is spoofing the genre, gently tweaking it, or flat-out reveling in it. After watching the movie, I honestly do not believe that I am able to tell you which one Ritchie and his team were going for.
Now, as much as it hurts me to say it, let’s begin our examination of what doesn’t work here with the performance by Plaza as Fortune’s right-hand lady. This is the film’s most egregious error in judgment. Let’s be honest here—all of us adore Aubrey Plaza. And she spent all of the year before that showcasing her range in the solid, character-based criminal drama Emily the Criminal and throughout seven great episodes of Mike White’s comedy/drama/mystery/social satire hybrid, The White Lotus.
Both of these roles were played by her in 2018. Nevertheless, in Operation Fortune, Plaza is effectively faced with portraying a strange mixture of both Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg’s roles from the Mission: Impossible series, and it appears as though she was absolutely overwhelmed by the effort. Plaza doesn’t contribute anything to the part of Sarah other than some of her trademark wide-eyed sarcasm, despite the fact that Sarah is intended to be alternately clever, witty, and attractive.
The fact that she is expected to deliver dialogue that she cannot possibly redeem with any amount of wit, charisma, or comedic timing does not help the situation. The phrase “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” and “The most beautiful roses spring from the ugliest dung” are two examples of groaners. A joke about the Brady Family that seems many decades out of date. During the process of plotting a specific burglary, Fortune reveals to the others that “I can get inside Alexander’s,” to which Sarah of the Plaza responds, “Well, I hope you take him to dinner first…before you go inside him.”
It’s possible that no actor could breathe new life into bon mots that have been around for so long, but Plaza shows little enthusiasm in even attempting to do so. It is difficult to remove the feeling that she isn’t portraying a genuine character but rather is giving us another one of her phony alter-egos from Parks and Recreation — possibly a near relative of Janet Snakehole. This notion permeates the majority of the film and is difficult to shrug off.
Even though some members of the group have a better time of it, they are unable to save an adventure that takes place all over the world but never appear to get up any steam. Even though Statham delivers what might be considered a baseline performance for him in this movie (he gets a touch cheeky and kicks a little ass), this is not one of those movies in which he excels above what is expected of him.
The meta-routine that Hartnett does revolves around the question, “Aren’t Actors Really Just Dumb Assholes?” Throughout the first half of the film, the character of Malone’s no-nonsense field agent is a blank slate; however, he does get more appealing as the film progresses. This is likely due to the fact that it seems like he is portraying a true character rather than just doing a bit. There is no denying that Grant is engaging in some activity, albeit one that is only sometimes funny.
That takes us to the lone bright spot in Operation Fortune, which is Cary Elwes, who is the only character in the movie who appears to have a firm grasp on what is required for it to operate in an effective manner. Every single time that Elwes appears on television, he is entertaining to watch. Even though he takes the subject matter very seriously, he manages to infuse each scene with a sense of warmth and comedy thanks to his subtle touch.
It almost feels as if this part ought to serve as an audition for him to get into a bigger and better action series…but then I recall that he’s already been cast in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, so it appears as though justice has already been done here. (Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Christopher McQuarrie finds a way to give him a significant amount of screen time.)
The road to cinemas was rocky for the movie Operation Fortune. It was supposed to premiere in the early part of the previous year, but the show’s production company, STX Entertainment, backed out at the last minute. This may have been due to the fact that some of the show’s stock villains were identified as being from Ukraine, which had just recently come under attack from Russia.
At the time that the picture was being held up in production, STX terminated its distribution arm, which forced the filmmakers to scurry to find a new distributor. Following a brief dalliance with the streaming services, the film eventually found its way to Lionsgate, which, to their credit, will be releasing it in theaters. It is difficult to say how much, if any, of the movie was edited during the year that it stood in limbo, but I didn’t spot a single reference to Ukraine in the film.
It is difficult to say how much if any of the movies was changed during the year that they sat in limbo. There are undoubtedly moments during the film in which it feels like it was butchered, however, this is something that may occur with or without any late-game adjustments being made. The many antagonists that Fortune’s team must contend with, including an adversarial espionage squad, appear to be nameless and redundant for the most part. And Ritchie and editor James Hebert will occasionally engage in some creative scene sequencing in an effort to spice up action sequences that come out as being too slow.
There is a particular scenario in the film in which Fortune is forced to flee a secure complex that contains hostile forces. After what appears to be a gunshot hits him, we quickly cut ahead to see him back with the team in safety. After that, the movie flashes backward to show who actually took the bullet that we heard being fired, and then it flashes back one more time to finally show a complete picture of how the entire escape took place.
It is a lot of work for a sequence that isn’t actually that great, to begin with in the first place. The few examples of Ritchie’s characteristic style that are present in this work come across as incongruous, and they are not nearly as effective in making the whole piece feel unique as Ritchie’s greatest work often does.
Perhaps because they spend so much time in various locations communicating to each other through earpieces, the group as a whole is never able to form the kind of cohesive unit that you would hope for in a large-scale team-based espionage drama like this one.
There are extended sections in which it feels more like you’re seeing actors recite their lines than it does like you’re watching individuals really have a conversation. This is a common theme in espionage movies, but Operation Fortune takes it to an extreme. The story itself has the impression of a James Bond rehash since it centers on a McGuffin that is completely banal but extremely strong. (And not even a great Bond, to boot.)
In the movie, there is a scene in which Fortune takes a break in the middle of a robbery to watch a few seconds of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by George Roy Hill, which is playing on a nearby television. It’s possible that this is an indication of the tone that Ritchie was striving for here, which was an exciting adventure that’s also light-footed enough to experiment with many tone shifts.
If this is the case, then the movie falls woefully short of achieving such an aspirational objective. Butch and Sundance plunged from the cliff where they were standing with élan and flair. In comparison, the Ruse de Guerre operation of Operation Fortune is a complete and utter failure.