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Review: Ritchie's 'The Gentlemen' enamored with itself

Gritty gangster tale a mixed bag of cockney riffing and lowdown violence

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A beer tap baring the name Gritchie is one of the first things you see in "The Gentlemen."

Gritchie, as in G Ritchie, as in Guy Ritchie, and yes, that's his brewing company. As if there was any doubt you've entered the cockney kingdom of the ultra-stylized British director, there it is, in your face.

Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in "The Gentlemen."

In your face is an apt descriptor of "The Gentlemen." Tough talking, punch drunk on its own flair and more than a little in love with itself, this crime story seems beamed in directly from the mid-1990s, when movies with loquacious gangsters — the type who will stop mid-sentence to correct each other's grammar or go off on an unrelated, hyper-literate tangent — were in vogue. 

Ritchie was and is a student of the School of Tarantino, and after a decade of bouncing around as a big studio director for hire — he made "Sherlock Holmes" and its sequel, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and, inexplicably, last year's "Aladdin" — "The Gentlemen" is the most Guy Ritchie movie Guy Ritchie has made in years.   

That's both a good thing and a bad thing. "The Gentlemen" has a suave cast and game performances from the likes of Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell and "Crazy Rich Asians'" Henry Golding, who gleefully gobble up scenes like they're Tic Tacs. 

But its mishmash of twists, twists on top of those twists and wink-wink self-referentialism don't add up to much more than a guy — or, in this case, a Guy — staring at himself in the mirror and loving the reflection staring back at him. "The Gentlemen" is "The Gentlemen's" favorite movie of the year.   

A miscast Matthew McConaughey leads the film as Mickey Pearson, who oversees an English marijuana empire. McConaughey, completely believable as a peaceful burnout stoner in last year's "The Beach Bum," is less convincing as a drug overlord, let alone one peddling something as relatively harmless as weed, referred to here, more than once, as "white widow super cheese." Is that something people say? 

Ritchie's script calls for Pearson to be at turns ruthless and charming, and McConaughey struggles in both areas, and sticks out as the lone American in the otherwise all-Brit cast. Watching "The Gentlemen," it's impossible not to second guess McConaughey and plug someone else in his place. (Jason Statham, a one-time Ritchie regular, would have aced the role and matched the film's wiry energy.)

Grant plays Fletcher, who acts as a narrator of sorts, laying out the plot particulars for the audience while attempting to extort Pearson via his right-hand man, Raymond (a muted Charlie Hunnam, who also starred in Ritchie's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"). Among the semi-connected elements drifting through this gritty story: Farrell as a boxing coach to a group of youngsters (rapper/actor Bugzy Malone, as one of his students, is a standout) and reluctant thug; Golding as a shifty gangster; "Succession's" Jeremy Strong as a shady businessman attempting to overtake Pearson's business; and Eddie Marsan as a tabloid editor who hires Fletcher to get the goods on Pearson. 

Along the way there are kidnappings, chewy bad guy monologues and a plot that bounces around like a ping pong ball. But it's more exhausting than enthralling, and Ritchie is so infatuated with his characters and the world he's built that he never stops to give the audience an entry point. We are taken with Tarantino's characters because even though they're lowlifes, they're lovable losers; here, the fun comes from watching the actors getting down and rolling around in the mud, but that's where it stops. You're never invested in them as characters.

By the end of "The Gentlemen," the tale has eaten itself whole to the point where posters from Ritchie's past movies start showing up in the background. It's Ritchie's bar, and he wants you to belly up for a pint and a pickled egg. It's an acquired taste, but it's all that's on the menu.  

'The Gentlemen'

GRADE: C

Rated R: for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content

Running time: 115 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama