When he emerged as a filmmaker in the late 1990s, Guy Ritchie fashioned himself as a kind of British Quentin Tarantino. His early movies (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) were set in criminal underworlds, crackled with witty and shockingly profane dialogue, and gleefully chopped up their timelines. Ritchie has occasionally sojourned back to that territory (in 2008’s RocknRolla, for instance). But of late he’s been languishing in franchise-land, sneaking Cockney accents and bare-knuckle boxing into such blockbusters as Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and Aladdin.
Now he’s back to his old stomping grounds with the new gangster comedy The Gentlemen, a ridiculously complex yarn about a marijuana kingpin, a conniving private investigator, and a gangland war in the streets of London. The film is vintage Ritchie, complete with unreliable narrators, big stars dropping in for over-the-top supporting roles, and a disregard for decency. It’s a real throwback, but I can’t say that as a compliment. For all its energy and vulgarity, The Gentlemen is a slog, a tedious and unnecessarily unpleasant tour of ground that Ritchie’s already covered.
Though it pains me to write this, at least some of the blame for this failure falls on Matthew McConaughey. The actor is saddled with the lead role of Mickey Pearson, a languid American who has risen to become Britain’s premier weed baron. The Gentlemen revolves around Mickey’s efforts to sell his booming drug business and retire with his wife, Rosalind (played by Michelle Dockery); the rivals looking to acquire his empire include the effete American billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) and the ambitious Chinese mobster Dry Eye (Henry Golding). The supporting members of the ensemble are at least engaged, but McConaughey seems completely checked out, delivering his dialogue with less flair than he shows in his Lincoln commercials.