By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Guy Richie’s new action comedy “The Gentlemen” has one of those twisting, turning plots that’s hard to follow, and deliberately so. I can safely say, though, that it opens with a man being killed. We hear the gun go off.
And that’s a fair enough beginning for a film that spends its 113-minute running time entirely dead. OK, mostly dead. Dead enough to qualify as dead. Every once in a great while, something twitches in its making —a joke that almost cracks a smile, a winning pair of glasses (most of the major characters are stereotyped by the kind of glasses they wear). But nothing that constitutes a new idea, a valid idea, a funny idea, an idea worth thinking about, or even decent entertainment.
One big problem is that most of the film exists, or possibly exists, only in the head of the most obnoxious character, Fletcher, played by Hugh Grant. Grant and Richie both want us to forget Grant’s long run as a sexy leading man, so they play up his wrinkles, dust his hair with strains of silver, and stick on the obligatory obnoxious pair of shades. It’s alarming, sure, to see the man unctuous, insistent, and determined to waste everyone’s time. But it doesn’t make for compelling watching at all.
Grant’s Fletcher has a script in hand when he goes to visit Raymond, played by Charlie Hunnam. Fletcher then expounds endlessly about what’s in the script, what might be in the script, and why Raymond needs to pay him an obscene amount of money for all of this. A given plotline goes along 10 or 15 minutes until it ends in betrayal, a big shoot-out, or both—and then all of a sudden, everything’s taken back. It existed only in Fletcher’s head. So it doesn’t really mean anything, and never did in the first place.
Speaking of sexy leading men, Henry Golding of “Crazy Rich Asians” fame shows up in this mess, playing a character called Dry Eye. He’s supposed to be a big wheeler-dealer, and a serious contender for top dog. But he gets beaten up, shot, and subjected to a barrage of anti-Asian slurs. In fact, a lot of humor in the film depends on Asians. Tom Wu, a distinguished dignified British-Chinese actor, comes in for a lot of it. Oh, and there’s an Asian character called “Phuc,” played by Jason Wong. The script milks that for cheap laughs. Over. And over…
We know these men are manly men, admirable men, powerful men, intimidating men, because they push out their chests and do their best to out-alpha-dog one another. And they use foul language incessantly. Whoever can come up with the best putdown, no matter if it involves sexist, racist, or just plain hateful constructions, wins the day. Whoever can keep the most secrets, then pop them out and pull the rug out from everything else, walks away with the grand prize. Except, as noted above, we can’t even figure out what’s supposed to be real and what isn’t.
The film makes much of its own production company, Miramax, which is truly bad timing since the co-founder of that company, Harvey Weinstein, is currently standing trial on rape charges. This throws all the violent, abusive behavior in the film into high relief. Even if it had been decent entertainment, the cloud would have lingered.
I caught the movie at a weekday matinee. Even with all the big stars, the big-name director, the big-name production company, and the whiffs of danger, guns, knives, and bad behavior with style, the auditorium held fewer than 10 people. A few of them pecked their phones. One fellow pulled his shirt over his head to peck his phone —I confess I hadn’t seen that approach before.
But no one seemed interested in the big screen. We’d all seen it before, seen it better. And now we had to wonder if the very ideas of this sort of thing held any remaining validity.
“The Gentlemen” is playing in theaters in and around Seattle. Check local listings for venues, prices, and showtimes.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.