Guy Ritchie made his presence known with a bang in 1998, when the scrappy, streetthug symphony Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels became a surprise hit. In the years since, he has given us two garish but entertaining Sherlock Holmes movies, a liveaction version of Aladdin and one sleek, truly terrific spy caper, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. His latest, The Gentlemen, is a shotgun wedding between the brash verve of his earlier pictures and Man From U.N.C.L.E.–style elegance. It should be a match made in heaven, but the union just doesn’t take.
Matthew McConaughey stars as entrepreneur and natty dresser Mickey Pearson, an American in England who has made a fortune for himself by pulling off a minor miracle: he grows the finest marijuana in a small country with little available green space. (The movie’s most amusing sequence is a montage of countryside walkers, gently but feistily asserting their legal rights to tromp with their walking sticks wherever they please.) Looking to spend more time with the wife he adores, Michelle Dockery’s Rosalind, he hopes to sell his enterprise to an American “Jewish billionaire playboy” (Jeremy Strong, who delivers his lines in a bewildering monotone as flat as the Great Plains). But the deal isn’t as simple as it seems, and in old-school Guy Ritchie fashion, a panoply of refined criminals and street toughs–including Pearson’s cucumbercool right-hand man (Charlie Hunnam) and a classy gangster named Dry Eye (Henry Golding)–crowd into the act, mixing it up in numerous choppy sequences of stylized brutality.
It should be fun–but it isn’t. Ritchie, who wrote the screenplay from a story he conceived with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, veers into territory that’s possibly anti-Semitic and maybe a little racist. It’s all a lark, so we’re not supposed to care, but some of the gags still leave a bitter aftertaste. A few of the performances–Hugh Grant as a sleazy blackmailer, Colin Farrell as a pugnacious but principled boxing coach–are enjoyable, but the movie’s star, McConaughey, is the weakest link. He’s often an enormously appealing performer, but this is McConaughey in philosophical Lincoln-commercial mode, not freewheeling The Beach Bum mode. And car-commercial McConaughey is the worst McConaughey–stuck up, willfully obtuse, not funny. Here, he may be a gentleman. But he’s still a dud.
This appears in the February 03, 2020 issue of TIME.