Anyone who thinks the Guy Ritchie of old has disappeared, crushed under the weight of the huge box office grosses of the family-friendly “Aladdin,” need look no further than the blood splattered pint mug of “The Gentlemen’s” opening scene for proof to the contrary.
Highly stylized crime comedies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” made Ritchie the king of fast-paced, politically-incorrect stories of life on the streets. The big budget movies, his Sherlock Holmes series and “Aladdin,” among others, made more money but lacked the visceral thrills of his early work. His new film, “The Gentlemen,” starring Matthew McConaughey, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant, feels like a hybrid of the two phases of his career. A spiritual cousin to “Lock, Stock” and ”Snatch,” it brings Ritchie back to London’s underworld, a place populated by Saville Row suit-wearing tough guys, ruthless tabloid editors and henchmen who speak like down-on-their-heels Oxford drop outs.
Matthew McConaughey is Mickey Pearson, an American who built a weed empire in his adopted home country of England. Intelligent and ruthless—qualities matched only by his wife Rosalind (Dockery)—he’s now middle-aged and looking to cash out. His offers to sell the business to billionaire drug lord Matthew Berger (a very mannered Jeremy Strong) for $400 million attracts unwanted attention from Dry Eye (Golding), the ruthless youngest nephew of an aging crime lord.
There’s more, but this is a pretzel of a story, twisted and tied in knots.
“The Gentlemen” is not a sequel or a reboot but it feels like one. The hyper-masculine story telling style, inventive use of swear words and spider-web plotting, while audacious, will be very familiar to Ritchie-philes. It’s “Snatch 2.0” with the same kind of big name cast who seem to be having fun mouthing Ritchie’s profanity laden dialogue but no amount of fast cutting and fast talking can replace real energy. As rock ‘n rolling as the filmmaking is, the story acts as an anchor, bogging things down as it gets more and more convoluted.
It’s too bad because Ritchie takes pains to create the very specific world his characters inhabit, and it is a colourful place but it seems that he never met a plot twist he didn’t love. As the plot thickens, and it does thicken almost to the point of impenetrability, the movie begins to feel overstuffed. To help the audience along Ritchie binds everything together with a silly framing device involving Fletcher (Grant), a private eye/blackmailer who unfurls the complicated story to Pearson’s right-hand-man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). It’s time consuming and adds little to the picture except for Hugh Grant’s exaggerated accent as he delivers flowery lines like, “Our antagonist explodes on the scene, like a millennial firework.”
“The Gentlemen” feels like an exercise in nostalgia, back to era of Ritchie’s frenetic jump cuts and outdated attitudes about race disguised as quippy dialogue.