Writer-director Guy Ritchie has returned to his wheelhouse for a surprisingly enjoyable crime-riddled romp in “The Gentlemen.”
Before Ritchie became a known name in the United States with “Sherlock Holmes,” he blasted onto the movie scene across the pond with British gangster films like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch.” The one-two punch of near-classics was followed by the somewhat less impressive, albeit still fun, “Rocknrolla.” All of his movies had one thing in common — they followed inexplicably bad men in crime hijinks that bordered on comedy and ridiculousness for enjoyable entertainment.
After tackling big-budget blockbusters like “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” and “Aladdin,” Ritchie went back to his roots with his newest feature, starring a who’s who of stars, including Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrel and a nearly-unrecognizable Hugh Grant, who casts aside his normal British sauve handsomeness for a down-and-dirty role as a sleazy private investigator. Grant looks more like Michael Caine than his former self — channeling an over-the-top cockney accent combined with some comically grotesque thick-rimmed glasses. Equally surprising in his appearance and character is Charlie Hunnam, who seems to finally have found his calling as a supporting actor in ensemble pieces.
The story, which spans more than 20 years with time-jumping throughout, is told as an ongoing conversation between Grant’s Fletcher and Hunnam’s Raymond, who serves as lieutenant to McConaughey’s American drug dealer, Pearson, currently living in England. Pearson built a massive marijuana operation with connections to the richest and most powerful British citizens. He wants to retire — until a would-be buyer and his Chinese rival create massive chaos and havoc in an effort to overthrow Pearson.
The movie is structured similar to a Quentin Tarantino film — from the non-traditional time-jumping narrative, to the pop-culture-influenced soundtrack to the characters themselves. Many feel like they were written in a first-draft of a discarded Tarantino script — something he dabbled in, but ultimately moved on from to create something better. It’s not that the script is bad, or that the characters aren’t entertaining in their own ways, but it still feels sloppy — and often a parody of Ritchie’s own previous works.
Despite the over-the-top action and comedy that ensues — with some timely and poignant jokes strategically inserted — the movie never really rises to its full potential. There’s always just something slightly missing — as if this is a rough draft of something that could be great with a bit more polish and exercise.
Some viewers will almost certainly be offended by some of the off-color jokes and humor. The movie heavily relies on the use of the c-word and Chinese stereotypes. It’s almost certainly intentional — thrown in to call out “woke culture.” At most, it feels juvenile — eliciting a few chuckles here and there, but more eyerolls than anything else.
“The Gentlemen” is thoroughly a Ritchie film — endowed with his own sense of humor and stylistic direction. Coming off “Aladdin” and “King Arthur,” this almost feels like a palate cleansing for a man who cut his teeth on lampooning the British underworld. It never reaches the heights of “Snatch” or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” but “The Gentlemen” still offers an off-kilter fun distraction from the slew of PG-13 horror films and Oscar contenders. For some, that will be enough. For those who aren’t fans of Ritchie’s previous work, there’s nothing in “The Gentlemen” that will change your opinion of him or his work.