Early Thursday evening I caught Guy Ritchie‘s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guuerre. Soon after I got into a tennis-match volley with a friend who likes it more than me. I’ve cut out some of our back-and-forth but here’s the gist:

Nearly 40 years ago (in ’85) Robert Towne did an uncredited rewrite of 8 Million Ways to Die (’86), which was director Hal Ashby‘s last film. According to Ashby biographer Christopher Beach, Towne wrote a scene in which Jeff Bridges‘ Matt Scudder shoots a suspect who’s just hit a policeman with an unlikely weapon — a rocking chair. Ashby changed the weapon from a rocking chair to a baseball bat. Towne was furious at Ashby for doing so, and they were never entirely cordial after that.

Bottom line: Either you’re the kind of filmmaker who understands that rocking chairs are far more interesting, or you’re not. Either you get that people are sick of baseball bats, or you don’t.

Ritchie’s Operation Fortune is basically a breezy formula wank…efficent but sick in the soul…an agreeable-attitude, wealth-porn, travel-porn action flick that’s amusing here and there, and is smartly written in a shallow, same-old-crap sort of way. But for all the dry snark and low-key humor it’s basically wall-to-wall baseball bats.

I enjoyed the opening Point Blank tribute, the clop-clop of footsteps with Cary Elwes. I also liked the Burt Bacharach “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” thievery scene.

Otherwise it felt to me like formulaic Ritchie cynicism, and too slick by half with too many toys and too much wealth and travel porn. Yes, it’s dryly amusing here and there, but to what end? It’s not really doing or saying anything. It’s just about slick action moves and shots muffled by silencers and dry, deadpan dialogue.

Taciturn, good-natured Jason Statham drills 45 or 50 guys, and there’s really nothing going on, nothing underneath…the same old globe-hopping shite.

I didn’t hate Ruse de Guerre but it has no fresh ideas, no real convictions above and beyond a rote Bondian attitude, and certainly nothing approaching what anyone would call nutritious dialogue.

It has an agreeable sense of “fun”, yes. Hugh Grant, the billionaire bad guy, has his cheeky blase attitude. Aubrey Plaza has her cynical, eye-rolling schtick down pat. And yes, there’s a certain tonal confidence…a certain light-hearted mood. But Ritchie just cranks this shit out, y’know?

Why can’t he make an action film with a droll or anarchic political attitude like The President’s Analyst?

Good action movies shouldn’t adhere too slavishly to formula. They should exude a little beyond -the-perimeter attitude. They should try for a little something extra. Something subversive or in some way unconventional.

I appreciated the brusque dispatch…the efficiency, dryness of tone and aloof comic attitude. It wasn’t bad in some respects. But what was it really?

Again, I loved the Point Blank clop-clop tribute and the affectionate nod to Bacharach and Butch Cassidy and other throwaway touches, and I almost enjoyed the fact that Ritchie kept saying to the viewer “this is nothing times infinity…I can crank this shit out in my sleep because I’m a slick hack with a sense of fatalistic humor about myself and you guys don’t care anyway, am I right?

“Your willingness to watch this shit, dear viewers, while shrugging your shoulders…because there is no God, no chance of any feelings of love or honest anger or honest anything…no possibility of surprise or anything at all but rank fuck-all cynicism…I’m nothing and you’re nothing, but at least this movie is carried aloft by wealth porn and travel porn, and for the millionth time this is a movie that regards death as a video-game proposition!”

The relentless goons and their ugly faces and the endless bullets and shell casings and the astronomical body count and the way the movie offers glimpses of the Roman ruins near Antalya but not so much as a second’s worth of reflection about them and…did I mention the wealth and travel porn? Oh, right, I just did. But that cherry red 1965 Mustang hardtop and all those black SUVs and the neck-deep cynicism…aagghhh!

Ritchie’s cynicism is truly, deeply suffocating and draining.

Statham and Donaldson’s The Bank Job remains Statham’s only high point.

In his usual soulless B-movie way, Ritchie embraces and celebrates cinematic bankruptcy.

Grant is fun but he’s just surface-skimming. The good-natured arrogance of a ruthless billionaire with an eye for the ladies. For decades we’ve been enduring endless variations of cynical, self-aware “bad” guys who can’t help but be amusing by simultaneously admitting to their foibles and putting themselves down while being fey and fleet about it…self-mockery + self-aggranduzement.

Friendo: You keep saying that at heart it’s a formula movie. Yes, it is. But you know what else is a (good) formula movie, checking boxes and popcorn tropes and time-honored archetypes in every scene? Top Gun: Maverick.

HE: True. But Maverick is sincere after a fashion. It’s more emortionally committed.

Friendo: Operation Fortune having a screwball spirit doesn’t make it insincere.

HE: Screwball, maybe, but with cancer in the blood.

Friendo: How? Because it’s a popcorn movie that draws on the DNA of familiar genres? I dug it the way I did because, beneath the formula, it’s a humane movie. That’s what I responded to.

HE: Humanity among the wealthy with their 1966 Mustangs and slick homes and travel-porn lifestyles. They can all eat my ass.

Friendo: There’s only one character in the movie who’s wealthy. And wealthy people are human too. This is not some decadent wallow in wealth.

HE: It is that. It is a decadent wallow in wealth.

Friendo: You’re making a breezy globe-trotting thriller about how money works sound like LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS.

HE: I was sitting there and going ”fuck you with your whistle-clean, late-model SUVs and stinking yachts and super-slick homes.”

Friendo: I don’t get it. Why? That yacht was a great setting for a movie scene.

HE: No poor people, no middle-classes…nothing but wealthy hotshots and smart-asses. I hate super-expensive yachts. And it didn’t even look like Cannes in the distance.

Friendo: You’re sounding like the sort of anti-bourgeois wokesters you despise. Is Bringing Up Baby not a good movie because the Katharine Hepburn character is an heiress?

HE: No — that’s strangely not a problem, that film. But at least they get thrown in jail in a small Connecticut town, and at least the leopard eats all those swans.

Friendo: Why would it ever be a problem? Tons of movies, and tons of thrillers and spy movies, are about rich people.

HE: Too many. I hate the banality of middle-class environs and your hungry schemers and strivers, but I hate wealth porn even more. Fucking nouveau riche wealth porn fuckheads.

Friendo: I don’t hate any of them. I don’t like wealth porn, and I know what wealth porn is. This movie is not wealth porn. It has FUN with the settings.