Some people believe Guy Ritchie invented the “bro action comedy” in 1998, with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. That’s an exaggeration. He merely made it unbearable, and now it’s ubiquitous. 22 years later, after wrecking the Sherlock Holmes franchise and setting fire to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the former Mr. Madonna is back at the wheel of yet another high-testosterone comic crime caper, The Gentlemen.
Sly devil that he is, Ritchie borrows a concept from A Chump at Oxford, the one in which an American comes to England and makes asses of the lads and lasses. That American is Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a glib Yank who has become the U.K.’s leading purveyor of illegal cannabis – the only kind there is in Britain – and now faces opposition from several competing gangs of outlaws.
I know what you’re thinking. Marijuana is surely going to be legalized in the U.K any day now, so Mickey’s hard-earned investment seems poised for deflation. That same thought comes up in dialogue but is swiftly shot down by one of Mickey’s acquaintances. In Ritchie’s screenplay – from a story he wrote with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies – ideas sprout up continually and are just as routinely talked to death, or beaten to death, or defenestrated, or blown up. After about thirty minutes we ourselves are bored to death, because every single character spouts nonstop “witty” dialogue until he or she is stopped, usually forcibly. No one ever shuts up. Ritchie makes Quentin Tarantino look like Robert Bresson.
McConaughey, on leave from his duties as a spokesperson for luxury cars and prancing around London in expensive-looking tweeds, is nowhere near the worst offender in the blabbermouth derby. Rival gangster Ray (Charlie Hunnam) is on the prowl, and a shifty shakedown artist named Fletcher (bearded and disheveled Hugh Grant, sporting an outrageous Mockney accent) is even slipperier. Hunnam and Grant only ever pause long enough to allow a gaudy murder, of which there is a surplus.
One or two supporting players are worth watching, particularly Colin Farrell as the Coach, leader of a gang of pugilists; Michelle Dockery as Mickey’s assertive wife; and wispy Jeremy Strong as Matthew Berger, another stray American crime mastermind, eternally conniving like everybody else. We know Berger and fellow mobster Dry Eye (Henry Golding) are doomed when they show up at Emirates Stadium for a soccer football game – being an Arsenal fan is its own punishment. Good luck with The Gentlemen, you’ll need it.