Statham Uncranked

‘Wrath of Man,” Guy Ritchie’s grim heist movie, pushes its marquee star aside way too often

I saw the Wrath of Man movie. People billed Wrath of Man as a reunion flick between action star Jason Statham and director Guy Ritchie, who hooked up more than 20 years ago in the stylish Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. And it’s true that, technically, Wrath of Man stars Statham and Guy Ritchie directed it. Though your taste for Guy Ritchie movies might vary, when he’s at his best, he makes genre movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. They have a little cheek and a stylish wink, like his recent ‘The Gentlemen,’ which had many problems but was never grim or boring. Statham works best the same way, when he kicks butt and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Wrath of Man, on the other hand, takes itself very seriously, and it’s awful.

As the movie opens, Statham’s character goes to work at some sort of super-charged Brinks money truck outfit in downtown Los Angeles. These money-truck drivers are all roided-out and snarky, kind of like the Top Gun crew of money-truck drivers. So, you think, maybe we’re in for a campy good time movie about the over-the-top drama of being a high-end money-truck driver. Ritchie and his co-writers adapted Wrath of Man from a 2004 French film, and the script feels like it went through Google Translate two or three times. As it turns out, the money-truckness is just a cover for a ludicrous, overwrought revenge plot that requires multiple timelines. The kitschy almost-fun of the first 20 minutes never returns.

To make matters worse, in order to explain the plot of Wrath of Man, the movie operates on multiple timelines. We know these are multiple timelines because enormous title cards appear saying 3 WEEKS EARLIER or FIVE MONTHS LATER. By the fourth timeline switch, I found myself looking at my phone to see that one hour had passed. The action stays semi-gripping until the script ushers Statham off the screen so we can understand who he actually is and what’s actually going on. When that happens, suddenly we’re in the midst of a ludicrous underworld torture-porn subplot, where ruthless and nameless mobsters slice people up and put bags over their heads. There’s a completely gratuitous and repulsive sequence involving underage porn in the Valley that gives Wrath of Man a little NC-17 flavor when it should really just be a basic R.

★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Written by: Guy Ritchie, Marn Davies, Ivan Atkinson
Starring:  Jason Statham, Holt Mcallany, Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood
Running time: 118 min

We find out who the movie’s real villains are at about the two-thirds point, and then we get 20 minutes of Statham-less exposition while a bunch of boring chodes talk about how the world owes them something. My personal favorite Statham movie is ‘Crank,’ where he has to continually electrocute himself in order to stay alive and keep the plot moving. Wrath of Man needs to Crank itself a lot more often, with more Statham. There’s a lot of action, but it’s rarely exciting, because Guy Ritchie has important things to say about nothing in particular.

The final bank heist sequence folds together pretty well, though we didn’t need to see continual flashbacks to the orchestrators moving pieces around the chessboard. Also, like the rest of the film, Statham is a passive observer for much of it, which is frustrating because all we want to do is see him kick ass. He doesn’t do that enough, though he does grunt a lot. Why reduce him to passive, glowering observer? If you have a weapon like Statham, use him!

Wrath of Man, from its pretentious title on down, regards itself as a work of great moral seriousness, but it’s actually about nothing much at all, just a bunch of macho gore and needless narrative tangles. If you’re to believe this movie, which you’re not, then the armored trucks of Los Angeles are constantly under assault from highly-militarized criminals. I feel like if this were actually the case, we might have heard about this story by now.

And since it’s not actually the case, then you should play up the nonsensical angles. The Fast & Furious franchise, which deploys Statham effectively, works not because cars fall out of airplanes all the time in reality, but because they do in the reality of the movie. Wrath of Man wants to be a work of gritty realism, but it is, in fact, a dark cartoon, where actual human motivations, and women with personalities, don’t actually exist.

Meanwhile, a booming, overwrought soundtrack drowns out everything. It’s as self-important as the rest of the picture. Wrath of Man is also extremely hard on its secondary characters, nearly all of whom suffer needlessly horrible fates. Josh Hartnett, who at one time was a big ol’ movie star himself, dies in particular like a dog, after whimpering pathetically throughout most of the film. How the mighty have fallen.

Hopefully the next Jason Statham reunion with Guy Ritchie is at least 20 more years in the future. Wrath Of Man leaves itself slightly open for a sequel. But I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that.

This concludes my review of the Wrath of Man movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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