When Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” came out in 1998, there was reason to cheer this amped-up contribution to the crime genre. Its rampant gunplay was peppered with zany British slang delivered by a fragrant group of tough-guy actors.
More than that, Ritchie actually took time to build running gags and tangled connections and some very slow-burn twists.
Since then, Ritchie has made big pictures (his “Sherlock Holmes” films, for instance), dabbled in Disney-ville (last year’s live-action remake of “Aladdin”), and married and divorced Madonna. You remember her, right?
Now he’s returned to his roots with a real “Lock, Stock” kind of picture. “The Gentlemen” is very much in that vein, which should please his fans.
Having said that, can we also note that Ritchie’s talent hasn’t exactly matured over the years. The same smirk is in place, the same breezy pleasure in random violence, the same snickering over gay jokes and Asian names.
We’re in London — where else? — as an American-born marijuana kingpin named Mickey Pearson prepares to sell off his hard-won business. Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey with unexpected, and frankly disappointing, restraint. It’s as though he realized that he’s one or two catchphrases away from becoming late-phase Nicolas Cage, and decided to pull back a little.
Mickey is devoted to his wife (“Downton Abbey” mainstay Michelle Dockery), who inexplicably runs an auto-repair business staffed by women. Yes, I know — surely this would have been a more intriguing setting than the men-only gangster stuff we get.
Another American (the sly Jeremy Strong, from “Succession” and “The Big Short”) wants to buy the weed business from Mickey. But there is also interest from a young hotshot (“Crazy Rich Asians” guy Henry Golding) backed by Chinese money, and somehow a humble boxing-club coach (Colin Farrell) gets mixed in as well.
What makes “The Gentlemen” interesting is that this story is told to us piecemeal by a quirky third party. A second-rate chiseler known only as Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is narrating the saga to Mickey’s second in command, the zen-calm Ray (Charlie Hunnam), with a little blackmail in mind.
Grant is good fun, rolling around in a working-class accent and gleefully scamming on steaks and expensive Scotch. Hunnam, who played the title role in Ritchie’s misfired “King Arthur,” scores points by consistently underplaying his part; you get the feeling that when he does fire off his semi-automatic weapon, it’s with extreme — almost apologetic — reluctance.
So let’s give Ritchie credit for the spirited performers, and for his usual storytelling tricks. This one’s got a gag that loops the whole thing back to the movie biz, which is maybe the kind of unhealthy realm these characters belong in anyway.
Still, this shtick is getting tiresome. Or maybe it’s the fact that I saw the movie two hours after the mass shooting in downtown Seattle, in a theater two blocks from the incident, that made the alleged hilarity of regular gun battles or people falling out of windows feels a little desperate.
“The Gentlemen” (2 stars)
Another Guy Ritchie crime comedy, this time about a marijuana kingpin (Matthew McConaughey) trying to sell off his business to unscrupulous colleagues. Some good actors here, and Ritchie’s storytelling tricks are still enjoyable, but the whole smirky thing is getting tired. With Hugh Grant, Charlie Hunnam.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall