Guy Ritchie has no fucks left to give. The English writer-director, who chiseled out a reputation as a hip auteur with crass and kooky crime capers like Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, rose to Hollywood’s A-List, helming big budget tent poles like Sherlock Holmes, failed franchises like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, as well as the god-awful live-action Aladdin. Now, he’s reteaming once more Jason Statham, the smirking tough guy he launched into a leading man 20 years back. Yet, neither one of them seems to give a single fuck about Wrath of Man, a criminally tedious crime “thriller.”
There was a time when Ritchie could be depended on to roll out a heist movie overstuffed with bombastic style, crackling slang, and colorful characters who were ferocious and fun. Wrath of Man boasts none of the above. A story of armored cars and the men who guard or rob them is washed in muted colors. The cold open theft that ends with three dead and millions stolen unfurls in one long take, but from a stagnant angle within the truck that leaves much of the action–and the reactions from the cast—completely offscreen. The characters are a barrage of angry white men with inexplicable nicknames like “Bullet,” “Jan,” and “Boy Sweat Bob.” Some are white hats. Some are thieves. None of them have the exciting eccentricities or roguish charm of Bacon, Rory Breaker, Brick Top, or Bullet Tooth Tony.
The thrill is gone. Ritchie, who is credited as a one of five screenwriters, can’t even be relied on to bring his signature street-smart patter to the proceedings. Forget the fun had with cockney slang; this Los Angeles-set slog brandishes odiously bad one-liners like “They call me Bullet, which is ironic because I certainly don’t like one!” “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up,” and from Statham’s grimacing anti-hero, “You just worry about putting your asshole back in your asshole and leave this to me.”
So, the style is non-existent. What about the substance! What about the plot?
Statham stars as a mysterious H, who gets a dangerous job as security for armored trucks that tote tons of cash. However, he seems to be on a secret mission, scoping out his fellow drivers and staring down heavily armed robbers. Once H chases off one such gang, he’s a hero. His bosses are awed by his nerves of steel and his proficiency with a firearm. Federal agents are suspicious. What IS his deal? While the first act sets up the man and his mystery, the second doggedly solves it with the most formulaic solution. Then, the third act abandons H altogether to follow the robbers, who are his true target. Prolonged flashbacks are meant to shock us with world-bending revelations. However, the motives of these Men of Wrath are well-worn clichés of vengeance, resentment, and greed. It’s all so predictable, you might wonder if you’ve seen this movie before. You may have.
Wrath of Man is an American adaptation of the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur (A.K.A. Cash Truck). Perhaps this explains why so much of the dialogue is eye-rollingly awkward. Did Ritchie, Marn Davies, and Ivan Atkinson’s adaptation of Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard’s original screenplay involve Google translate and a slathering of f-bombs? Is that why people talk they’re a conversation bot for frat parties? While I’ve not seen the original film, even if it was this clichéd and clumsy, that’s no excuse for Ritchie to repeat such missteps.
The non-linear editing that once made Ritchie’s films zesty and mind-bending are employed with all the verve of a dead turtle. Scenes crudely clunk into place without flow or logic. The soundtrack—an area where Ritchie was once acclaimed for bringing unexpected jams and tracks popping with personality—is a drone of ominous strings. All that seems to remain of the Ritchie we knew is a thirst for violence, unfurled here with gruesome displays, including a shockingly tone-deaf sequence where a Black man is dragged from his bed and tortured at length by white vigilantes.
Nothing in Wrath of Man suggests that Ritchie is having fun anymore—not with the crime genre, and not with filmmaking. His lack of enthusiasm appears contagious. Statham is on cruise control, idling at a scowl and grumble. And who could blame him when he’s tasked with quips like, “Suck your own dick”? Meanwhile, Josh Hartnett struggles in a bit part as a dirtbag. Andy Garcia’s suaveness is suffocated in a sly FBI agent role. (He had less screen time yet more to do with it in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar!) Ritchie brings back Eddie Marsan (The World’s End), who offers an accent from somewhere between Massachusetts and Mars. Holt McCallany, to his credit, brings energy to the role of an almost manic mentor. Then, there is Scott Eastwood, who seems to have built a career entirely on his glancing resemblance to his father.
Imagine Jason Statham facing off against Scott Eastwood. One is a headliner of Fast and Furious movies, who proved so popular the filmmakers turned him from villain to hero and gave him a spinoff. The other is a sidekick fittingly called “Little Nobody” in Fate of the Furious. There’s no question Statham will trounce Eastwood’s snarling thief. So, there’s no tension and no excitement, just minutes stretching on and on until we’re finally released with a showdown and a total letdown of a final one-liner.
For years, Ritchie has been moving away from his daring indie roots to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Along the way, he’s shed the signatures that had critics and audiences cling to him in the first place. Sure, when he brought modern vernacular to Arthurian legend, we craved an evolution in style, a maturity in theme, a growth into something new and unexpected. Ritchie has refused, becoming a hack whose films draw groans, not gasps or cheers. Thus, he has given us a remake so lifeless, passion-free, and predictable that it might as well be prescribed as a sleep aid.
“Wrath of Man” is out Friday in theaters.