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"The Gentleman" Review

The interest surrounding British director Guy Ritchie's return to the gangster movie genre of his beginnings with The Gentlemen stems from the bizarre path his career has taken. After the one-two punches of his feature debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch (remembered as the one where Brad Pitt has the incomprehensible Irish accent), he fell under the spell of aging pop singer/succubus Madonna with whom he collaborated on producing a son and directing a near-career-ending remake of Swept Away, earning Razzie nominations.

After a pair of exceedingly mediocre attempts to get his gangster back on with Revolver and RocknRolla (after which I demanded his career be ended), he lucked back into relevance with the post-Iron Man hot Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film and its sequel, following with the lackluster The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

2017 saw him blow up his career again with the trailer-so-awful-I-had-zero-interest-in-seeing-it King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a flop so massive it caused a planned five sequels - who plans on making six movies before the first one has proven itself? - to be scrapped. It appeared he'd finally be done for but no! For some reason Disney hired him to helm the 2019 live-action cash grab of Aladdin(!?) with Will Smith.

Which brings us to The Gentlemen, his first original work in over a decade and returning to his old British crime ensemble territory for a splashy, kicky, snappy, snazzy, and incredibly self-satisfied and ultimately meaningless exercise. It manages to be well-done in almost every way while being disposable and banal.

Built around the framing device of sleazy tabloid freelancer Fletcher (Hugh Grant, clearly looking to assume Michael Caine's old go-to position since Caine is pushing 90 and mostly only works for Christopher Nolan these days) attempting to explain to Ray (Charlie Hunnam) why Ray's boss Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) should pay him £20 million to not publish his reporting, we're introduced to Mickey's world.

A poor trailer trash American, he somehow won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. While attending and earning a horticulture degree, he became a weed dealer. Coming up with an elaborate and clever method of farming his crops in a small country like England with little way to not have it discovered and distributing it, he has become extremely wealthy and ensconced in British high society, partially because he's paying cash-strapped aristocrats for the use of their estates as grow sites.

But he's grown tired of the grind and has decided to sell his operation for $400 million to a fellow American (Jeremy Strong) and retire with his wife (Michelle Dockery). But other parties are interested in making bids or conducting an extremely hostile takeover, foremost of whom is Dry Eye (Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians, whose presence piqued my girlfriend's interest and she fell asleep early on), a hot-headed Chinese gangster whose nickname is never explained. Add in a gang of breakdancing rapping thugs called The Toddlers who rob one of Mickey's grow sites to the chagrin of their home gym's owner, Coach (Colin Farrell), a sleazy tabloid publisher, the smack addict daughter of a lord, Russian gangsters, and a snazzy table/foot warmer/barbecue and you have the makings of a crackin' good romp.

The problem is that Ritchie, who also wrote the screenplay, is both overcompensating and seems immensely self-satisfied with just how colorful everyone is. (I could imagine him typing the script with one hand while the other congratulates him on how wonderful he's doing if I was a cruel person.) Right out of the gate as Grant spits out reams of purple dialog it becomes clear that The Gentlemen is going to be one of those kind of movies; the kind which dazzles the rubes with twisty-turny wibbly-wobbly stories jam-packed with characters who are mostly caricatures and verbose dialog which implies ownership of a thesaurus and little more.

The thing is, very little about The Gentlemen in isolation is subpar. The performances are lively, the action is clear, the production quality quite rich, and until it makes a couple of excessive final turns leading to a dead end up its own arse, the knotty plot is fun. But the overall effect is like watching a mime pretending to walk into the 150 mph winds of a  hurricane, expending massive effort, but going absolutely nowhere. The final meta scene with Fletcher pitching the story we watched as a screenplay to Guy Ritchie himself is an onanistic finale which I always suspected it was heading towards from the start.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.


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