Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is offensively bad, like Guy Ritchie lured you into the theater with the promise of a fun Jason Statham action movie and threw rocks at you while insulting your mother instead. The film is so inept, so poorly constructed and executed, so staggeringly awful that you wonder if anyone has the same agent they did when they signed onto it. I didn’t walk out of the theater angry; I walked out relieved that it was finally over. The anger happened while the movie was playing. That sounds hyperbolic; it isn’t.
When a team of mercenaries assaults a laboratory and steals a weapon so top secret nobody even knows what it is (astonishingly, the Zucker Brothers didn’t write this film), British Intelligence calls in its top spy team to retrieve whatever it is they’re looking for so desperately. The crack unit includes field agent Orson Fortune (Jason Statham), computer expert Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza, the only American team member because Ritchie wanted Aubrey Plaza in this movie), general backup man JJ Davies (Bugzy Malone), team leader Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes), and, for this particular mission, Hollywood superstar Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), who’s blackmailed into helping them because the movie needed a hook.
Operation Fortune plays out, at least structurally, like an episode of Mission: Impossible before Tom Cruise turned it into a megahit movie franchise. Cary Elwes is the Jim Phelps character, the planner who’s briefed about the mission and recruits his personnel based on their skills. (It was a total coincidence that the people Phelps needed in every episode were the main cast members.) Then, you’ve got the man of action, the electronics expert, and the guy who’s kind of a jack of all trades and is present mostly to round out the team. Danny Francesco, the movie star, is the random guest star they’d recruit to help them with a particular mission. Unfortunately, the parallels are so stark that Operation Fortune feels like a TV episode. But this isn’t the series premiere; it’s the middle of the third season, where the viewer is expected to know everyone, and characterization is unnecessary.
Unlike Mission: Impossible, Operation Fortune doesn’t take itself seriously for a moment. There’s no sense of danger or urgency, no stakes, no excitement, because the movie is a broad comedy masquerading as an action thriller. Not a moment is played straight, and everything is infused with what Guy Ritchie seems to think is humor. He’s wrong, though, because humor is funny. There are jokes aplenty in Operation Fortune, but they’re all misfires. There’s one genuine laugh, a sight gag that comes at the end of a chase sequence. The dialogue is desperate and juvenile, with sex jokes so lame they go on for several minutes before letting you know that they are, in fact, about sex, and you should totally laugh and stuff. Aubrey Plaza delivers most of these, and I don’t know what she did to piss off Guy Ritchie, but it feels like he’s actually trying to embarrass her.
Jason Statham fares somewhat better, if only because he gets a couple of decent action moments. No matter how bad the movie, it’s fun to watch him in hand-to-hand combat. If you’ve read any of my articles on the subject, you know how much I love me some Statham. An action movie with him in the lead is basically starting on third base for me; it has to be a truly bad film to turn me against it. Well, here we are with Operation Fortune. Statham does his best to work his way through tedious jokes and rambling spy speak, with the occasional burst of action his only reprieve. And the action is so oddly filmed, with most of the fights intercut with other scenes that don’t add any kind of punch or suspense but just slow things down when they should be accelerating. One action beat is told slowly over three scenes, with the sequence of events revealed in such an odd order that there’s no energy or fun. Statham is wasted in this sludge.
The rest of the actors are like survivors of a shipwreck, floating aimlessly in the ocean as they struggle to find dry land. That’s not their fault; this is a great cast, most of whom can carry a film on their own, let alone together. But the plot is so convoluted and rudderless that nobody knows how to play it. The recruitment of the movie star would seem to be the centerpiece, but it isn’t; it’s just one of many threads that come and go as the movie plays out, disappearing for long stretches before Josh Hartnett suddenly shows up again. Hugh Grant is the central villain until he isn’t, but then he is again, but then he’s not anymore. A rival spy team pops in and out, sometimes as the main adversaries, other times as minor annoyances. We can’t tell if Aubrey Plaza’s primary relationship is with Statham, Hartnett, or Grant, and she ends up having chemistry or an arc with none of them. The dynamic between Statham and Cary Elwes could have been fun if Ritchie knew what he wanted it to be; it’s hard to tell if they hate each other or secretly like each other, and the mystery is not the point but a byproduct of the waffling script that will do anything for a laugh that it never achieves (except that once). Nothing set up is properly paid off, with the only satisfaction coming from knowing the movie is finally over and done.
The music is a mishmash of… shall we be generous and say “homages?”… to other, much better spy movies. There are riffs on the music that generally accompanies those establishing shots of exotic locations in James Bond films or John Powell’s relentless Jason Bourne scores during a foot chase. They’re so obvious that they smack you in the face with what Operation Fortune thinks it is, or maybe what it thinks it’s parodying, or whatever the hell this movie is trying to do – if it’s actually trying to do anything. But it isn’t long before you realize it’s not even worth considering. This is direct-to-video cheapie bad, a movie that feels like an afterthought, inconsiderate of the fact that people will pay money to sit through it for almost two hours.