There's no saving Guy Ritchie's 'The Gentlemen'
The former king of British cinema makes a desperate attempt to relive past glories. Someone should tell him times have changed and movies have changed with them
Two decades ago the world was a different place. It was the era of the lad mag, the metrosexual and the mockney gangster high jinx of the films of everyone's favourite cinematic geezer - Guy Ritchie.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie's breakout, oh so stylish, coolly soundtracked and well-dressed, character-filled crime caper, captured the imaginations of blokes who liked to tell tall tales in London's gentlemen's clubs of the unbelievable exploits of the city's East End gangster legends.
That film and its follow-up, Snatch, also paid enough of a nod to British gangster classics such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday to earn Ritchie plaudits from hard-to-please cineastes as the kickstarter of a brief New Wave of similar style British millennial gangster movies. With his postmodern references to the classics, his love of stylish rule bending and an ear for witty dialogue, Ritchie was briefly held up as the British answer to Quentin Tarantino.
Ritchie then married Madonna and made the ill-advised and universally panned Swept Away for her Madgeness. He tried to sweep that failure under the rug by directing two lacklustre and infuriating all-style, no substance gangster films - Revolver and RocknRolla - before throwing in the towel - or so it seemed - and settling for becoming more well known as the husband and then ex-husband of the Queen of Pop and the adequate, if not particularly innovative, director of blockbusters like Sherlock Holmes, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, King Arthur and the live action reboot of Aladdin.
Now, perhaps worried that no one remembers that at one time he could have been a contender for the Tarantino of British cinema title and in an effort to overcome the embarrassment of directing a blue-faced Will Smith in a singing, dancing, elephant-filled Disney family entertainment, Ritchie has returned to the world of the London crime caper with an all-star cast in an effort to remind us that he's the boss of the blokes, the Grand Mac Daddy of the geezer genre and the laddiest of the lads.
The plot of The Gentlemen - which is over-convoluted and has more twists than an Alpine mountain pass - centres on American expat Mikey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) - a redneck who was smart enough to land up in England on a Rhodes scholarship and smarter still to realise that the path to real success was not through study but in selling weed to the British upper classes. It's an endeavour that's made him a fortune and which he now wishes to divest himself of for a pretty penny so he can go off and enjoy a nice normal life in the company of his beloved wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery).
Enter the sharks as the underworld circles, looking to take control of the profitable empire. They think it's high time the bloody Yank hands over his business for as little money as possible.
There's fellow drug dealer Matthew (Jeremy Strong), with whom Pearson strikes a deal but who of course is not to be trusted. There's also young Chinese Triad up-and-comer Dry Eye (Henry Goulding), who'll take the crown by whatever means necessary; a bunch of street fighting estate teenagers mentored by their wily coach (Colin Farrell); a permanently pissed off newspaper publisher Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) who's been waiting to take down Pearson for years.
And there's Fletcher (Hugh Grant) a cunning journalist with scriptwriting ambitions who thinks he's the only one who knows what's going on in all this chaos and has the plan that can't fail to make him some dosh and put his name in lights while he laughs his way to the Bahamas.
Grant, playing against type as a grimy East End hustler, is the best thing in the film and serves as the narrator through the quagmire as he gleefully reveals all he knows to Pearson's loyal right-hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam) - a quiet, GQ best-dressed type who likes expensive scotch, Wagu beef and smokeless barbecue.
In the end, in his Herculean effort to remind us of his place as king of the caper film, Ritchie throws the kitchen sink at the screen and creates a messy, not nearly as clever as he thinks mishmash of characters and situations we've seen a thousand times in the last two decades.
The film can't be saved by either the on-paper talents of its cast or the heavy surface styling of its direction. The Gentlemen suffers from an inability of its director to recognise that times have changed and that films have changed with them and that what once worked so well in the age of Loaded, Maxim and FHM now seems a pointless and sad ode to blokey machismo.
• The Gentlemen is on circuit.