After venturing outside his own box and directing the horribly misguided King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in 2017 and this past May’s oh-so-painful live-action remake of Aladdin for Disney, writer-director Guy Ritchie has decided to get back to his bread and butter with The Gentlemen. But it’s clear barely ten minutes in that the bread is stale and the butter has spoiled and that fans hoping for a return to the days of Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels are instead going to get their third straight disappointment from their Guy (make that four, if you count his barely tolerable re-do of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 2015).
The Gentlemen has all the ingredients for a welcome return to form for Ritchie—oodles of cockney-talkin’ mobsters, gunfights, fisticuffs, and even the director’s trademark jump cuts, fast-forwards, and other unconventional bits of editing niftiness. But it can’t overcome a hopelessly going-nowhere script, the most unappealing characters to appear on screen in recent memory, and so many repetitions of the rhymes-with-bunt-word that a Chelsea thug might just get up and walk out of the theater.
The premise is painfully simple—marijuana kingpin Mickey (Matthew McConaughey) runs the pot business in England, but he’s looking to retire. The bad guys see a prime opportunity to take everything for themselves. Violence ensues.
That’s it. And had Ritchie stuck to the plan, The Gentlemen may have indeed worked. But instead he chose to forward the narrative through a story-within-a-story as related by a sleazeball named Fletcher (a career-bad Hugh Grant), who is trying to blackmail Mickey via his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam). The entire film plays out as a herky-jerky mess, with Ritchie continuously bounces back and forth between the actual goings-on and the scenes of Fletcher hustling Raymond. The result is a film that can’t even begin to establish anything close to a decent rhythm. Just when it starts to get good and we feel like things are humming along, we neck-snap back to Fletcher and watch as Grant makes an absolute buffoon of himself.
McConaughey doesn’t fare much better in one of his more forgettable performances. He’s happy, it seems, to just go through the motions as the speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick, self-proclaimed king of the jungle. On the plus side, Henry Golding (Last Christmas) proves he has much more in him than sappy rom-coms as the chief baddie gunning for Mickey, and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery steals the show as Mickey’s formidable wife.
There are occasional glimpses sprinkled throughout The Gentlemen of the Guy Ritchie his fans have come to know and love, and I suppose he can be forgiven for taking longer to get back in the saddle—shaking off Aladdin would be a monumental task for anyone. He’s not there yet, but he’s given us a glimmer of hope having announced that his next film is a remake of the French thriller Cash Truck and a reunion with his ol’ buddy Jason Statham. Bloody great.