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"The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" 4K Review

Guy Ritchie has had a wildly uneven career, qualitatively and successfully. After breaking out at the turn of the Millennium with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he face-planted with the Madonna-led flop Swept Away (which led to their marriage and her sucking his talent away) and followed with a pair of movies so mediocre,  Revolver and RocknRolla, that I demanded he be blocked from making more movies.

He caught a reprieve when 2009's Sherlock Holmes (5/10, cable) was able to ride Robert Downey Jr.'s post-Iron Man Renaissance to box office gold, but then followed with a trio of disappointing efforts in the sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (didn't see), the bland The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (3/10, skip), and the disastrous King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (DNS), which killed a planned half-dozen movie franchise. (Memo to studios: Try making ONE good and successful movie before planning on making a bunch of them.)

But like a phoenix he came back with the last big Disney live action cash grab before the world ended in 2020 with the Will Smith-fronted Aladdin (DNS). Given a new lease on career, he then promptly reeled off a string of yawners and duds beginning with The Gentlemen (5/10, cable - the new Netflix series has good buzz, not that I buy it), Wrath of Man (4/10, skip), Worst Title Ever entrant Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (5.5/10, cable), and Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (haven't seen it yet, heard good things). Which brings us to his latest flop which only grossed $20 million worldwide on a $60M production budget, The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, his latest exercise in working so hard to seem cool that he forgets to make it very interesting.

Based on an actual true caper called Operation Postmaster pulled off by far less attractive people than our stars here, TMoUW stars  Henry Cavill as Gus March-Phillipps (who was reputed to be one of Ian Fleming's inspirations for James Bond), a bit of a rogue who is tasked by Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) via Brigadier Gubbins (Cary Elwes), also known as M (another Bond reference), to assemble an off-the-books raid to disrupt the Nazis U-boat supply chain in early-1942.

Because the German subs are sinking half of the ships traversing the Atlantic, England is being starved of supplies and the Americans are reluctant to enter the war in Europe. If the supply ship which brings CO2 scrubber cartridges (which allow the subs to stay submerged undetected for long periods) were to be sunk in its port on a neutral island of Fernando Po off the African coast, it would force the subs to be on the surface enough to be spotted and taken out. 

Gus assembles a crew including Alan Ritchson (Reacher), Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), Hero Fiennes Tiffin and sets off on a fishing vessel with a stop at Nazi island base where Appleyard (Alex Pettyfer) is being held and interrogated. After a super easy, barely an inconvenience raid to free him, they head for the ship. Since it's an secret mission, if the British Navy catches them, they'll be arrested, and of course the Nazis will be less friendly.

Concurrently, a second team of a Heron (Babs Olusanmokun, the doctor on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and the Freman that Paul kills at the end of Dune Part 1), who runs a casino hall on the island and has connections to additional forces and weapons, and Majorie Stewart (Eiza González) travel to the island to reconnoiter and set up distractions to cover the raid. Majorie catches the eye of SS commander Luhr (Til Schweiger) and proceeds to play a high stakes game of seduction considering she's Jewish.

Along the way complications arise including the supply ship's departure being moved up, the hull being reinforced with armor, and a mole in the Ministry (20 points to anyone who gets that reference) making anything less than total success for our crew not an option.

While slickly made, Ritchie once again manages to drain the energy out of the story with leisurely pacing and an inconsistent tone which feels like a mashup of war movie and Ocean's 11. Are you making a war drama about a desperate mission upon which the survival of England hangs upon opening the seas or is it a jokey action comedy?

Everyone wears plot armor and barely gets a scratch while hordes of Nazis are mowed down. Characters are flattened into a pretty two-dimensional picture without much internal motivation beyond the most superficial like Marjorie's natural antipathy to the Nazis attempting to exterminate her kind. Compare this to something like Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds which was a revisionist war fantasy film and Ritchie and his three co-writers really come up short.

Cavill has an impressive beard and swagger, but other than the quiet comedy of him cleaning out the good cigars and booze while being ordered on the mission, he's just another one of Ritchie's shallow gentlemen like, well, The Gentlemen. The rest of the cast is fine, but not really challenged.

In counterpoint, the missus really enjoyed it more than she expected and I'm sure the presence of hunks Cavill and Golding had nothing to do with it. To be fair, González is a dish, especially when she shows up in a Cleopatra costume and asks if the dress is OK, to which I remarked, "It's not the dress."

The 4K presentation has good colors and balance, but not much in the way of demo-worthy HDR grading. It looks good on good TVs. Audio is fine; nothing outstanding.

Score: 5.5/10. Catch it on cable.


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