Guy Ritchie makes a very Guy Ritchie movie, this time with Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam.
“The Gentlemen,” the latest from the excitable British director Guy Ritchie, gives you exactly what you might expect from a Guy Ritchie movie that hasn’t been constrained by studio decorousness (and ratings) or suavely tricked out with big-Hollywood cash. It’s talky and twisty, as usual, but also exuberantly violent (rather than PG-13 safe) and mischievously — or just aggressively — offensive (cue someone saying “Chinaman”). Also as usual, it’s stuffed with name actors who seem to be having a good time, which can be diverting when you’re not cringing. As is often the case with Guy Ritchie, the dudes far outnumber the women, here by roughly six to one.
The actors have been studiously ornamented and sometimes flamboyantly sleazed up with flash outfits, hair product and statement eyewear. Hugh Grant wears glasses (and a goatee), as do Charlie Hunnam, Jeremy Strong and Colin Farrell. All deliver lightly funny, loose turns and are generally nice to watch. That’s especially true of Grant (as a scummy snoop with an overcompensating long photo lens) and Farrell (an earnest, lethal coach with many tracksuits), whose roles, performances and outfits seem designed to obliterate their leading-man personas. Henry Golding, a romantic lead in the hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” doesn’t demolish his persona, just shrewdly roughs it up.
One of Farrell’s tracksuits — a resplendent tartan — is a thing of ludicrous beauty, as is his performance. His character is soft and tough, likes hats and further accessorizes with a crew of gym rats, who also wear tartan. In one scene, the gym rats rip off an illegal cannabis farm owned by a slinky kingpin played by Matthew McConaughey; they record the theft and turn it into a diverting music video, posting it online. It gets a lot of hits. This reads as yet another of Ritchie’s moments of reflexive cinematic self-reflexivity (as well as wishful thinking), much like the long-winded story that Grant’s character tells and that eventually leads to a laugh-killing shot of the Miramax logo.
The story, in very brief, hinges on McConaughey’s kingpin, an American who’s built a lucrative illegal pot empire and is now thinking of hanging it all up. His wife, an Amazon played by Michelle Dockery with the blank hauteur of a dominatrix, has a garage mostly staffed by women. They don’t sing and dance or shoot guns, which is too bad. The kingpin’s plans lead to complications, including from Strong, whose wealthy businessman is sometimes called the “the Jew,” has an unplaceable accent and walks with the daintiness of an overindulged Pomeranian. The character comes with a wife so isn’t strictly coded as gay, though the words gay panic may run through your head.
A lot happens, another Ritchie trademark, often on visibly cheap sets and sometimes with a bullet to the back of the head. There are villains and supervillains, crime and punishment, winks and splatter-happy schtick. In one scene, you see a poster for Ritchie’s 2015 diversion “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a pricier bauble with pretty men and women in swanky threads doing stuff. Here, McConaughey takes the lead and serves as the narrator but often feels irrelevant. The point is cleverness and looking cool, though, mostly the movie is about Ritchie’s own conspicuous pleasure directing famous actors having a lark, trading insults, making mischief. There’s not much else, which depending on your mood and the laxity of your ethical qualms, might be enough.
Rated R for language, casual slurs and gun violence. Running time: 1 hour 53 minutes.