Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre was originally scheduled to debut last year, only to be pulled from the release calendar in order to edit out the Ukrainian nationality of certain gangster characters (who’ve now been transformed into Russians). That delay turns out to be somewhat ironic, given that Guy Ritchie’s latest (premiering in theaters Mar. 3) moves at an outright blistering pace, zooming across the globe and through set pieces with a spry, stylish panache that recalls the director’s prior The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
It’s espionage executed with cheeky flair and playful sexiness, and it’s enlivened by Aubrey Plaza, who runs away with the show as the American cohort of Jason Statham’s special-ops badass.
Carrying herself with a sultry swagger and naughty twinkle in her eye, she’s the undisputed star—if far from the only highlight—of this jovial spy escapade. Consequently, let this review be the beginning of a campaign to Make Aubrey Plaza the Next 007.
Clocking in at nearly two hours and yet never spending a moment twiddling its thumbs or taking a breath—even when it’s supplying rapid-fire streams of (largely dispensable) exposition—Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre revolves around The Handle, a coveted package whose nature is unknown, and which has been stolen by mysterious thieves who intend to sell it to unidentified buyers.
It’s a MacGuffin in the purest sense of the term, driving this Mission: Impossible-style lark’s heroes and villains to engage in shootouts, fistfights, and all manner of additional standard-issue action, and that status isn’t altered by the fact that Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies’ frisky script eventually reveals what it does and who wants it.
As indicated by its subtitle, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is really about the sly, intricate subterfuges and stunts pulled off by its protagonists, beginning with Orson Fortune (Statham), whose name tells you all you need to know about the gravity of these proceedings. An agent who’s so cunning that, when his professional budget was slashed, he exploited UK government mental-health regulations to keep himself stocked up on fine wine and traveling via private jet, Orson is a contractor of peerless precision.
It’s such that his handler Nathan (Cary Elwes)— and, by extension, Nathan’s political boss Knighton (Eddie Marsan)—has no choice but to put up with his manipulations. Equally comfortable in elite company and getting his hands dirty, he’s a character tailor-made for Statham, allowing him to demonstrate his formidable combat skills, glower intimidatingly, and lean into the droll sense of humor that’s always been his secret weapon.
Nathan hires Orson to retrieve the Handle and figure out who’s behind this madness, and he pairs him with reliable human-Swiss-army-knife J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone) and American expert Sarah Fidel (Plaza), the latter stepping in for a former teammate who’s switched allegiances to a rival contractor outfit run by Mike (Peter Ferdinando). Together, they’re pointed in the direction of Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant), a notorious arms dealer with a deep spray tan and a thick Cockney accent. Greg appears to be the middleman for a Handle transaction that involves the aforementioned Russian criminals and an anonymous purchaser, thereby compelling Orson and his compatriots to infiltrate his inner circle.
To do that, they follow an old Trojan Horse playbook by enlisting the aid of Hollywood megastar Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett), whom Greg adores and who’s convinced—via blackmail—to join Orson’s crew. Asked to play himself, Danny winds up being a reasonably reliable pawn, and Harnett embodies him with enough dim-bulb enthusiasm to make up for the fact that he’s a rather thin caricature. Helping matters, Hartnett is often paired with Grant, who strikes the right cartoonish notes as the sleazy, smiling-with-villainy Greg, whose fandom of Danny is only matched by his fondness for Sarah, here posing as Danny’s girlfriend. Between this, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Gentleman, it’s clear that Ritchie knows how to not only cast Grant against type, but to utilize his comedic chops to precise, winning effect.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre zigs and zags with easygoing zaniness, its twists just convoluted enough to keep one interested. The who, what, where, when and why of this affair, however, is secondary to its polish and charm. Ritchie directs with a dynamic hand, his choreography swift and clean, his cross-cutting sharp, and his compositions confident. The film looks sleek, swanky, and appetizing at all times, be it racing through the bustling streets of Turkey or navigating the corridors of mansions in Madrid. Even its violence is of a bloodless sort, since it would stain the impeccable posh elegance—all designer suits, fetching female neckties and luxury cars—that defines the material.
If Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre is a romp with little on its mind other than delighting audiences with clever stratagems and shiny surfaces, it nonetheless proves to be a stellar showcase for Plaza. Building upon a superb 2022 that included memorable performances in Emily the Criminal and The White Lotus, Plaza turns what could have been simply a colorful supporting part into an opportunity for magnetic scene-stealing, whether she’s trading sexually charged barbs with the deadpan Statham or strutting about in chic business suits and alluring casual wear.
That she also delivers over-the-mic instructions in eroticized close-ups of her mouth, and then leaps into the fray for some John Wick-esque mayhem—replete with a shot of her firing out of a vehicle that’s in the midst of a 360-degree spin—only further makes her the film’s brash, hilarious, awesome center of attention.
So assured is Plaza in this genre milieu that it’s a shame she doesn’t have even more to do in Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, which generously spreads the love around, giving each of its cast members distinctive moments to shine. Ritchie is wise enough to leave the door open for sequels to his pleasurably silly venture. Still, if Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were smart, and truly dedicated to taking their blockbuster property in a new direction, they’d snatch up Plaza for their own iconic role while she’s still available.