Wednesday, March 29, 2023

A Thousand and One is a sprawling narrative that never loses a sense of intimacy

The expansive narrative of A Thousand and One, the feature-length directorial debut of writer/director A.V. Rockwell, begins in the 1990s. Inez de la Paz (Teyana Taylor) has just gotten out of prison and is now looking to make a good life for herself and her son, Terry (played at the age of 6 by Aaron Kingsley Adetola). They initially struggle to make a life for themselves in Harlem, but they eventually land an apartment that keeps a roof over their heads for many years. The depiction of this makeshift family moves forward at two other significant intervals, with the latter capturing Terry at the age of 17 (now played by Josiah Cross). Just as his mom always wanted to give Terry the home she never had in the past, now Terry must contemplate what his future is going to look like.

At one point in Terry's childhood, Inez gets married to her longtime sweetheart Lucky (Will Catlett). During their wedding, Lucky kneels down to Terry to let him know "I'm not going anywhere." Of course, things become much more complicated than that. Nothing sticks around forever. The passage of time comes for all of us. Rich, poor, kings and paupers...we're all living at the mercy of finite existence. Rockwell's filmmaking unearths inspired ways to reinforce the passing of years and specifically what's so tragic about what happened to Harlem across the 1990s and 2000s. Long-standing apartment buildings transform into sleek-looking shopping centers adorned with the logos of recognizable companies. 

It's one thing for the passage of time to result in green leaves turning brown in the autumn. But this visual transformation is something much more intentional and sinister. A Thousand and One poignantly depicts how gentrification intentionally ripped away entire communities and much-needed homes. It's a process that targeted people of color and reinforces the daunting circumstances Inez and Terry are navigating every day. The Harlem we see at the start of A Thousand and One is not the same one we see in the film's final scene. This portion of upper Manhattan is being chipped away and Rockwell's filmmaking lingers on every lived-in patch of this neighborhood to emphasize what's being lost in the process of gentrification. This is not a movie lingering on the woes of what's been lost, but also a subtle celebration of what was and still is. The approach to Harlem within A Thousand and One functions as a way to generate conflict for the main characters, inform the deeply textured camerawork, and provide social commentary. What an incredible multi-faceted aspect of this feature.

A Thousand and One tends to operate like that, with Rockwell's script often juggling so many plates but doing so with such grace and subtlety that you won't even notice. What keeps things so engaging is the character work, with this movie doing such commendable work framing Terry and especially Inez as deeply complicated human beings. Mothers don't often get to be dimensional creatures in cinema narratives. Normally they're just around to be supporting players with the stories of younger characters. Inez is a welcome departure from that norm. She's incredibly messy and someone you sometimes despise. But she's also a deeply troubled human being who can elicit sympathy from the audience moments after potentially alienating moviegoers. All those rough edges make Inez such a believable human being from the get-go. The thoughtfully gradual and small ways she evolves over the years make accentuate the veracity of this figure.

Such characters are brought to life with deftness by A Thousand and One's central cast. Teyana Taylor, in her biggest lead role to date, proves she's more than up for the challenge of simultaneously anchoring an entire motion picture and inhabiting such a complicated character. She's mesmerizing here, particularly in the ways she depicts Inez changing over time but also displaying subtle physical details that remain consistent. Taylor's got the tiniest intricacies down pat with Inez and it's remarkable to watch. Even considering this towering lead performance, though, Josiah Cross may be the standout of A Thousand and One's cast. Tasked with the most emotionally overt moments of the entire movie, Cross doesn't succumb to just going brash. There's restraint in even his most pronounced depictions of Terry navigating challenging emotional situations. His tears ring true and fit right into the naturalistic aesthetic of the rest of the movie. 

With such gripping performance and assured filmmaking, I could've just watched Inez and Terry navigate everyday life for hours on end. It doesn't hurt that there's such a quietly loving quality to the way A.V. Rockwell frames the various apartments and streets of Harlem. Their imperfections are on-screen, but that's also what makes them feel cozy and rooted in reality. A Thousand and One is often transportive in the visuals it uses to depict a mother and her son navigating issues both massively systemic and intimately crushing. It's a story that stretches over a decade yet manages to feel like it's always living in the moment. Combining that narrative feat with the rich visuals of A Thousand and One makes this A.V. Rockwell feature one of the easiest movies to recommend so far in 2023.

Monday, March 27, 2023

It'd take more than blowing on a cartridge to improve Tetris


Video game movies don't have the best track record in terms of overall quality. Tetris, a feature about the creation of this game and the legal logistics behind getting it out to the world, tries to circumvent this issue by making sure it adheres more to a biopic formula than any mold one would associate with Assassin's Creed or Uncharted. In the process, Tetris trades out one frequently flawed storytelling format for another. Tetris has its share of terrific scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. But, like so many biopics, it's also too stuffed for its own good. Just like you shouldn't cram too many obstacles into one level of a video game, so too should biopics not feel obligated to focus on every single aspect of its central subject matter.

Noah Pink's screenplay for Tetris begins by taking viewers back to the 1980s when Henk Rogers (Taron Edgerton) was selling a video game at a Las Vegas expo where he first came across the video game Tetris. He only had to play with this project for a few minutes to see the potential. Tetris could change the world. The cash-strapped Rogers proceeds to bet everything on working with Robert (Roger Allamn) and Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) on selling Tetris across various video game formats across the globe. However, to try and secure the handheld video game rights to Tetris just in time for the launch of the Game Boy, Rogers decides to go to the Soviet Union. This is both where Tetris originated and where Rogers hopes to secure the handheld gaming rights from the property's original owners. This journey leads Rogers to discover the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov), but also more conspiracies and dangers than he could've ever imagined.

Director Jon S. Baird's greatest visual flourish throughout Tetris is to often render key establishing shots or expository dialogue delivered through 8-bit graphics reminiscent of vintage arcade games. It's a move that echoes Marielle Heller's decision to have A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood's establishing shots realized through toys and knick-knacks in the vein of establishing shots from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In both cases, it's a visually evocative way of bridging the gap between "reality" and the art that in-universe characters are so obsessed with. Baird's recurring use of video game graphics isn't quite as creative as it could be, but it's still a fun flourish, especially in an opening scene where we see the vastness of Las Vegas rendered like an Atari game.

Tetris has some fun with video game references, but it struggles in making the human drama feel either potent or compelling. Put simply, there's just too much going on in this script. In an attempt to capture every nook and cranny of all that Rogers navigated to gain full control of Tetris, Pink's script feels scattered rather than comprehensive. Glimpses into the lead character's domestic life breeze by so quickly that they register as superfluous rather than tragic. Meanwhile, a budding friendship between Rogers and Pajitnov has some cute moments, but it too doesn't feel fleshed out enough in the grand scheme of the story to be emotionally impactful. Even the dangers of the Soviet Union end up feeling muted within the screenplay. Characters constantly talk about how "dangerous" and "impentrable" the country is but Rogers is always slipping in and out of the territory with such ease that there's never as much suspense to his storyline as there should be. Tetris is comprehensive, but what good is being comprehensive if so much of what you assembled feels half-hearted?

Part of the problem is, unfortunately, Rogers as a character. In his depiction here, Rogers just isn't an incredibly compelling character. He's not a horrible-written figure, but there's not much drama to a straightforward guy whose faith in Tetris is unwavering and doesn't have much personality beyond being able to walk into any meeting and wowing people with his showmanship. It doesn't help that there's some dissonance between the writing of Rogers, which is trying to paint him as a quintessentially nice hero in the vein of a 1930s Jimmy Stewart character, while Edgerton's solid performance keeps hinting at darker, even semi-manipulative shades of the character. In others, Rogers is constantly torn between being Steve Rogers and Harold Hill.

The Russian characters in Tetris tend to be the more interesting characters in the script, which isn't surprising since they've got more concrete emotional stakes in their respective storylines. Rogers can waltz in and out of the Soviet Union, but guys like Pajitnov are stuck inside a country that could make him disappear at the drop of a hat. The tension in Tetris briefly gets a new lease on life when the focus shifts to Pajitnov, but he's just not in the movie enough to elevate the entire proceedings. Similarly commendable are enjoyably over-the-top supporting performances like Toby Jones and Igor Gravuzov, the latter of whom has big Michael Stuhlbarg energy playing an unabashedly creepy Russian officer.

Pleasant performances like these and a generally agreeable air make Tetris a painless viewing experience, but once the credits finish rolling, your mind is bound to drift towards thoughts of how the movie could've leaned more into its potential. If only Jon S. Baird's general camerawork had as much life as the scenes rendered in 8-bit graphics or if Lorne Balfe's score had any sense of personality to it. Even just whittling down the scope of Tetris would've improved things immensely. It's difficult to call Tetris "bad", but it's even more challenging to say it levels up into something special. At least it's better than many video game movies?

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Keanu Reeves and company remain as violently fun as ever in John Wick: Chapter 4


More movies should begin with as dramatic of a bang as John Wick: Chapter 4. No expository narration or inexplicable poorly-edited chase scene here. Instead, the camera cuts back and forth between a fist loudly punching a plank of wood and Laurence Fishburne’s The Bowery King walking through smoke-filled green-tinted tunnels. As he makes his way to his destination, The Bowery King bellows phrases from a passage of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, which includes that immortal phrase “abandon all hope Ye who enter here.” It’s true that there is little hope for those who wander into the land of violent vengeance. But John Wick's newest trek into that terrain still provides some undeniably entertaining action movie cinema within John Wick: Chapter 4.

After that bombastic prologue, John Wick: Chapter 4 picks up shortly after the events of its predecessor, which ended with Wick (Keanu Reeves) hankering for some revenge against The High Table, an organization ruling over this world of assassins. As Wick begins to get revenge on the powerful people who've made his life a living nightmare, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill SkarsgĂ„rd) grows nervous that this vengeful man could do some real damage. This is when he sends master assassin Caine (Donnie Yen), an old colleague of Wick's, after this loose cannon. If he wants to get out of all of this alive, and maybe even find some shred of closure in the process, Wick won't just need to fight off armies of henchmen. He's also planning to engage in a staple of the oldest of High Table rules and traditions: a mano-a-mano duel.

Four entries in, director Chad Stahleski knows what works in these John Wick movies. This particular production is bigger in scope than prior John Wick installments, but Chapter 4 still delivers all the bullets, lavish get-ups, and violence you’d want out of these movies. The formula and hallmarks of this franchise don’t get subverted here, they’re just expanded in scale. For some franchises, sticking to the hits would be a sign of creative stagnation. In the case of a fourth John Wick film, though that suited me just fine and I'd imagine it'll work like gangbusters for other fans of this franchise. Stahleski still gets so much mileage out of crisply-filmed action sequences draped in brightly-colored neon lighting, who can complain about getting more of a delectable dish? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. 

It helps too that John Wick: Chapter 4 delivers plenty of fun set pieces that don’t just blur together with fistfights and shootouts from earlier movies. A deluge of constant skirmishes in Paris, France during the third act is especially commendable in how they dish up relentless violence without becoming hollow echoes of one another. Leaning into the unique attributes of the backdrops of these fights, even if it’s something as seemingly simple as lots of stairs, helps a bunch in this regard. It’d be one thing if John Wick was fighting people in the same grey hallway for two hours. Instead, Wick gets to dish out violence everywhere from an extravagant hotel to crowded streets to a dance floor and everywhere in between. The imagination in these fight sequences is impressive but also implemented so carefully that you may not even notice that impressive quality while watching John Wick: Chapter 4

A decade into this franchise and it’s still as fun as ever watching Keanu Reeves slicing throats or refusing to go down no matter how many times he gets stabbed. The commanding presence of Reeves undoubtedly plays a role in why these films remain so enjoyable, but Chapter 4's thrills are also aided by the welcome presence of Donnie Yen. This action movie legend has demonstrated his gifts for physicality and stuntwork plenty of times before, but John Wick: Chapter 4 offers him a chance to flex his comedic and acting muscles too. Some action stars are impressive in throwing a punch but struggle a bit in just acting like ordinary humans, but not Donnie Yen. He's just as compelling dropping well-timed one-liners or exhibiting vulnerability as he is beating the heck out of people. In a cast crammed with enjoyably theatrical performances, Donnie Yen handily stands out as the MVP.

John Wick: Chapter 4's extensive runtime of 169 minutes offer audiences plenty of chances to appreciate the skills of Yen and the other artists putting in so much effort to realize all this action-packed mayhem. The second act runs a little too long for sure, but more often than not, the expansive scope of Chapter 4 is much more of a blessing than a curse. We've come so far from the original John Wick all the way back in 2014, which seemed, conceptually, like something meant to mimic a typical low-budget Liam Neeson or Jason Statham vehicle. Nearly a decade later and John Wick: Chapter 4 is more reminiscent of the most recent Mission: Impossible movies than anything else. Thankfully, going big hasn't erased the charms and craft that put this franchise on the map in the first place. In other words, do not "abandon all hope" ye who choose to see John Wick: Chapter 4.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Inside has an interesting starting premise, but lackluster execution

Nemo (Willem Dafoe) is stuck. The protagonist of the thriller Inside, Nemo was just trying to snag a couple of high-value paintings from a ritzy New York apartment when things went haywire. He stayed just a few seconds too long and suddenly the door to the place closed in on him. Now he's trapped here in an apartment, which has barely any supplies inside it and whose owner isn't coming back for a long time. There are many survival movies about one person having to brave isolation and extreme conditions. Most take place in the harsh wilderness. Inside is about a single man braving the inside of an apartment that very quickly becomes a suffocating cage.

Armed with a peculiar premise and a restrained scope perfect for filming in the age of COVID-19, director Vasilis Katsoupis and writer Ben Hopkins frustratingly opt for a shockingly straightforward execution on Inside. There's little ambiguity to be found in the plot or visuals, the story follows a decidedly linear path, and the filmmaking is often quite standard in framing Nemo's plight. Other filmmakers like Chantal Akerman let their bold side flourish when utilizing a minimal number of sets, but Inside's imagery stays firmly in the lane of "competent but predictable." Individual shots rarely last too long, which undercuts the claustrophobia of this central premiere, while the hung paintings that surround Nemo are just a bunch of heavy-handed metaphors (we see a painted bird on the wall, representing the "animal" Nemo is becoming in captivity). The only real notable creative flourish is having Nemo be trapped with a refrigerator that plays "Macarena" whenever he opens it. Otherwise, you get what you expect here.

Not every movie needs to reinvent the wheel, but it's frustrating that Inside never utilizes its innately sparse aesthetic for something more. You've got Willem Dafoe, a large apartment, and a conceptually intriguing starting premise, shouldn't there be more meat on the bones of this movie? The primary issue is a simple one. Inside is torn between two impulses. It wants to work as a conventional survival thriller that thrives on only suspense, but it's too slow-paced to make your pulse race. Various forms of conflict our protagonist encounters here, even in the injuries Nemo sustains in his attempts to escape, aren't really that interesting or idiosyncratic. On the other hand, it also has ambitions of being a loftier meditation on art and the nature of free will. Committing to either of these aesthetics would make for a grand o'l time. There are plenty of filmmakers who could've even made Inside work on both levels. Since Inside never flashes much brains or thrills, though, it becomes a chore to get through.

Even the score by Frederik van de Moortel isn't especially interesting, a strange feat given that a movie largely devoid of dialogue like Inside would seem to offer a composer an opportunity for a really interesting score. Alas, van de Moortel mostly just delivers rote compositions that go in one ear and out the other. It's yet another way Inside squanders its potential. By the third act, Inside has got so little going on it resorts to channeling director Pier Paolo Pasolini (though falling far short of that classic filmmaker) in resorting to shock value imagery. By the end of this feature's runtime, you will see Nemo eating dog food and a pile of his feces, each of which got a brief cry of "ewwww!" from the audience I saw Inside with. However, there's no perverse fun or weighty themes being explored in these depictions of severe desperation. Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe and sometimes a pile of feces is just a reflection of a movie grasping at straws to keep its viewers from looking at their phones.

At least we have Willem Dafoe around as our lead character. The always reliable Dafoe, who could lend genuine humanity and heft even to movies like Motherless Brooklyn or Death Note, hits some solid moments in what's basically a one-man show for his talents. The unimaginative approach to realizing the experiences of a man confined to a lavish apartment, however, does leave Dafoe hitting the same note repeatedly. Even he can't salvage something this frustratingly hollow. Given his experience with truly bizarre filmmakers like Lars von Trier or Abel Ferrara, it's puzzling that the creative team behind Inside couldn't think of more engaging and unexpected material to hand Dafoe.

Inside is bound to be the rare movie that unites both arthouse cinema devotees and general moviegoers in their frustration over a film. The former group will find Inside too shallow, while the latter collection of individuals will undoubtedly walk out of the movie after finding it "boring." Neither camp will be necessarily wrong. While being trapped with just Willem Dafoe in one location for 100 minutes sounds like it could be a blast, it turns out even the zestiest garnish cannot save a dish that's been so badly burned. Skip Inside, just stay home and revisit Bo Burnham: Inside instead. Now there's a visually compelling and entertaining project that's confined to just one location!

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Champions is too derivative and outdated to get you cheering


In this remake of the 2018 Spain film Campeones, Champions chronicles basketball coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson), who always had difficulty connecting with other human beings. His penchant for aggression and only caring about basketball has cost him so many jobs and now he's more unemployable than ever thanks to getting arrested for a DUI. His sentencing for this crime is 90 days of community service as the coach of The Friends, a basketball team in Des Moines, Iowa comprised of players with intellectual disabilities. Initially, Marcus is just counting down the days until his community service is finished and crossing his fingers that he can get some kind of new job in the NBA. Eventually, though, he begins to find kinship with the players he's tasked with coaching.

Some of the flaws of Champions are common for subpar hokey inspirational sports movies, but one unexpected shortcoming is how dated it feels. Not necessarily in the language it uses to talk about disabled people, but the whole thing feels like it got shipped in from 2010. The barrage of needle drops all seem to be at least ten or so years past their prime, while an early depiction of a "meme" seems to be straight out of 2013, if not earlier. Most baffling of all, there's a "[Blank] for Dummies" book cover sight gag here. Those jokes were so common in the early 2000s and then just died away after being run into the ground! Why are they now being brought back? What did we do to deserve this resurgence?

It's not a good sign that my primary takeaway from Champions was how it often feels like a 2009 movie you ran into on cable rather than a hot-new theatrical release in 2023. This new directorial effort from Bobby Farrelly just doesn't offer much for one to chew on, why wouldn't your mind race immediately to an inexplicable "[Blank] for Dummies" book cover? It's a project that tragically feels like a TV movie and never lets any of its actors truly embrace their greatest talents. The incredibly funny Kaitlin Olson, especially, is underutilized here as a love interest character that often only functions to bring ham-fisted conflict and exposition into the screenplay. It's truly bizarre to watch Olson go from mastering the anarchic comedy of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia to engaging in the formulaic writing of Champions.

Most damning of all for Champions is that the sports movie it reminded me of primarily of was not Remember the Titans or Rocky, but rather Million Dollar Arm. That long-forgotten 2014 feature was about a trio of cricket players from India who are brought to America to play as baseball pitchers. Despite those three characters having such an interesting story, the film was focused primarily on their agent, played by Jon Hamm. It was hard to get invested in a sports movie that totally miscalculated who its most interesting characters were. Champions carries on the "proud" tradition of Million Dollar Arm by once again sidelining far more compelling athlete characters in favor of a middle-aged dude and his sex life. No wonder Champions struggles to maintain your interest when it keeps benching its best assets.

It doesn't help that screenwriter Mark Rizzo tells this story with shockingly little life. Sports movies are always going to have familiar elements in them, they're a strain of crowd-pleaser cinema that's all about execution. Within Champions, Rizzo executes stale narrative beats with no panache or passion. If the movie can't get invested in these underdog struggles, why should we? Part of the problem is the character of Marcus, a guy who begins to warm up with The Friends from the first time he talks to the team yet abruptly reverts to his selfish ways throughout the movie to keep drama going. There's no consistency to the guy or any real reason to get invested in him. Champions centers so much of its narrative around this guy that, despite having a talented actor like Harrelson occupying the role, Marcus becomes an anchor weighing down everything.

The only time Champions comes alive is in scenes focusing on the individual Friends team members in their lives. Depicting these athletes as fleshed-out humans and exploring their interior desires has some real substance to it. A scene of player Benny (James Day Keith) rehearsing into a mirror how he'll stand up to an overbearing boss, for instance, is great while anytime the camera focuses on the incredibly-determined player Constentino (Madison Tevlin), things improve dramatically. A sequence where she cuts right to the truth with a frustrated Friends player in a locker room is the highlight of Champions and one that suggests a much more interesting movie focused almost exclusively on these athletes. Unfortunately, Champions is much more interested in sidelining those characters and channeling the spirit of Million Dollar Arm, which leaves this movie feeling like a rerun before its opening logos are even done.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Aubrey Plaza and Hugh Grant can only do so much to liven up Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

Orson Fortune (Jason Statham) is a master spy. He's also the lead character of the new Guy Ritchie movie Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, highly-skilled in combat, and sharing a name with a pig from the U.S. Acres comic strip. Fortune has been hired by Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) to lead a mission to retrieve an unknown yet decidedly cataclysmic item that has fallen into dangerous hands. Working alongside hacker Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza) and expert sniper J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone), Fortune is off to save the world, a task that leads him to go head-to-head against eccentric billionaire Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant). Getting close to this guy will require exploiting his infatuation with celebrities. Time to throw in movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett) onto Fortune's time. Two thing's are for certain here: this is going to be an unusual mission and Orson Fortune will be beating people up within an inch of their lives if given half a chance.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (Jesus, what a clumsy title) is director Guy Ritchie's second foray into espionage following his 2015 film The Man from U.N.C.L.E. That's not the only familiar element of Ritchie's filmography to reappear here, as Statham, Hartnett, Grant, and Eddie Marson are all returning from his earlier works. Ritchie is working on familiar ground with familiar faces here, which might explain why the script (penned by the director alongside Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) feels so rudimentary. The film is rarely incompetent, but it's also lacking in surprises, especially compared to Ritchie's detour into much darker territory with his 2021 film Wrath of Man.

Whereas that film suggested Ritchie was expanding his cinematic palette to include grimmer ruminations on the costs of vengeance, Operation Fortune delivers what you'd expect but without much pizazz or excitement. It's a half-hearted cover song of better movies. Part of the issue is that the production gets less glamorous as it goes on. When we first meet Orson Fortune, he's lounging about in a luxurious hotel decked out in blue walls. This indicates that the production design of the whole feature will be taking more cues from Jacques Demy than Paul Greengrass. Alas, by the time third-act arrives, Operation Fortune has devolved to just having Statham beat people up in a silver-colored elevator while a final shootout takes place in a generic office.

There's also not much in the way of cheeky surprises or unexpected flourishes in either the writing or fight choreography. Despite occupying the spy genre, which is famous for its unexpected twists and morally grey allegiances, Operation Fortune goes down all the familiar roads. People who are antagonists in scene one end the story as antagonists, it's all quite predictable. The bog-standard elements are executed with shockingly little vibrancy in either the camerawork or editing. It all just feels way too paint-by-numbers for a movie that wants to be riotous. All of this is compounded by the dreadful lack of tension in the screenplay. Even in the Mission: Impossible movies, Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt tends to trip, get hit by a car, or run out of oxygen during big action sequences. Here, Orson Fortune always pulls off everything without a hitch it never feels like he's in danger. Why should we be on the edge of our seats if we already know the exact outcome?

Nobody's expecting Jason Statham to get offed in the middle of a Jason Statham movie, but a little bit more vulnerability would've made the plot seem less weightless. That's a key issue here, the lack of real long-term problems. Even Danny Francesco manages to get over his initial fear of being a super-spy in the span of one scene. Other Guy Ritchie movies are brimming with ticking clocks and claustrophic conflict, but Operation Fortune is breezy to a fault. These subpar details mean the production only really comes alive when two of its performers get to chew up the screen. Aubrey Plaza and Hugh Grant are unquestionably having the time of their lives showing up in this film. Plaza's deadpan style of grim humor feels like a unique element in the world of spy cinema (do you remember anyone like her showing up in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?) while Grant is just a ball as an unabashedly sleazy guy who loves to brag about all the wicked people he's helped over the years.

Whenever Plaza and Grant get to take center stage, Operation Fortune finds a pulse and functions just fine as easygoing entertainment. Throw in some lovely European locales for this attractive cast to walk around in and there's no denying this is at least better than some other entries in Guy Ritchie's filmography, like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Elements like Plaza and Grant's performance, though, deserved a better movie to inhabit. Painless to sit through, Operation Fortune is still an inert movie that needed an extra jolt of creativity and energy. Oh, and also another first name for Orson Fortune, I should not be reminded of U.S. Acres during a spy movie.