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'The Gentlemen' review: Guy Ritchie returns to familiar territory, but there's something lacking

Michelle Dockery as Rosalind Pearson and Matthew McConaughey

Michelle Dockery as Rosalind Pearson and Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Pearson in STXfilms' "The Gentlemen," directed by Guy Ritchie.  Credit: STXfilms/Christopher Raphael

PLOT The owner of a London marijuana empire wants to sell his business but runs into serious complications.

CAST Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

RATED R (violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content)

LENGTH 1:53

BOTTOM LINE Guy Ritchie returns to form but the results are mostly uninspired.

Guy Ritchie comes home to the sort of pulpy crime cinema that made him famous with "The Gentlemen," after a decade spent immersed in the world of Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes, a live-action Aladdin and other projects that sent him far afield.

This is intimately familiar territory for the filmmaker, who came to prominence thanks to a propulsive darkly comic vision of low-level London underworld criminals in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and its successor "Snatch."

There's a certain measure of excitement in this return to form, which comes with a cast stacked with first-rate actors ranging from Matthew McConaughey to Michelle Dockery, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell and more. Ritchie has a gift for crafting smart, twisty dialogue with a giddy edge to it, and in the hands of some of these performers it practically sings.

But "The Gentlemen" is missing the inspiration that animated the earlier movies, the sense of fresh discovery and a distinct vision being formed. There's a rote quality to the scheming, a sense that the movie occupies warmed-over territory that's not only been covered more interestingly by Ritchie in the past, but also by the many other Quentin Tarantino imitators that have come and gone over nearly three decades.

The London-set story follows McConaughey's Mickey Pearson, who wants to sell his enormous marijuana business to fellow American Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong). Many complications ensue involving a host of characters donning leather jackets and tracksuits, with a predisposition for tongue-in-cheek violent outbursts.

The picture is certainly pleasant enough on a superficial level. When it comes to big screen entertainment, you could do worse than watching Grant deliver cutting asides as a sneering, Cockney-accented private investigator, framing the story by narrating his version of events to Hunnam's stoic Raymond.

The problem is simply that none of this resonates. The plot is difficult to follow at times but ultimately so meaningless that it doesn't particularly matter. The movie revolves around the quick, flashy cutting, comedic violence and sarcastic banter.  

Ritchie owns this territory and can do it well. "The Gentlemen" might best be regarded as a greatest hits compilation. But the whole aesthetic is tired and could use some genuine refreshing. That's not to say every movie in this vein needs to be close to as transformative as, say, "Pulp Fiction," but there's got to be something more than this. "The Gentlemen" offers nothing radical or interesting enough to warrant a return to the formula.

FOUR MORE

Guy Ritchie has made a name for himself as the British Quentin Tarantino, turning out films full of colorful criminals whose banter is as fast as their guns. Here are four of his definitive features:

LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) Ritchie's first film turned former diver Jason Statham into a star and became a British television series. Matthew Vaughn, later of the "Kingsman" films, produced.

SNATCH (2000) Brad Pitt, as an unpredictable boxer named Mickey, managed to stand out in an ensemble cast of Benicio del Toro, Jason Statham, Dennis Farina and others in this story of criminals searching for a stolen diamond.

ROCKNROLLA (2008) Toby Kebbell, as a slippery heroin addict, and Mark Strong, as a level-headed gangster, had breakout roles in this crime flick, intended as the first in a yet-to-be-completed trilogy.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015) This American adaptation of the Cold War-era televisision series starred Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander as jet-setting spies. Like many Ritchie films, it earned points more for style than substance, but it earned a healthy $107 million.— RAFER GUZMAN

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