There’s a decent idea for an action and revenge movie lurking somewhere in the mess that is the new Guy Ritchie movie “Wrath of Man.” For one, Jason Statham is present, so it’s foregone before the opening credits—done to the tune of a bizarro world, baroque James Bond style—have finished.
In short: bad guys are going to die hard at Statham’s hands. They probably deserve it. What else do you need to know?
Well, for one, Statham keeps his typical mad skills mayhem at bay for nearly the first hour of “Wrath.” He and Ritchie make us wait that long to watch Statham dispatch a bunch of baddies in gruesomely-efficient fashion. And it’s even longer before we discover the reason behind Statham’s brutal quest.
Furthermore, Statham doesn’t even put in an appearance for the first fifteen minutes. Instead, the opening includes two money truck drivers in short order being ambushed, robbed and murdered. We will see this same event again, later, from two other points of view but little will be learned from it. This is supposedly an action movie and a revenge picture, after all—the less you understand, the better.
And maybe that’s just the problem: “Wrath of Man” is too clever by half and grafts a heist story onto what should have been a straightforward revenge plot. That the revenge and heist plots intertwine only by chance doesn’t seem to concern Ritchie or his co-screenwriters, Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, who adapted their script from an earlier French film called “Cash Truck.” Remakes seldom translate well and “Wrath of Man” is no exception.
Indeed, the first half of “Wrath of Man” proceeds at a snail’s pace. After we witness said money truck being held up Statham, introduced as “H,” joins a Los Angeles security firm called Fortico—a name that somehow hadn’t already been utilized by “The Simpsons.” H is put through his paces by a trainer named Bullet (Holt McCallany), who is all masculine bravado, perhaps far too much so for a job that requires stealth and being on one’s guard.
H is a middling recruit. Though he has worked for security firms before, or so he says, he is at best a decent marksman. But he scores exactly the requisite seventy percent on his tests, is handed a gun and sent on his way to make his cash deliveries.
An early job goes terribly wrong. H, the greenhorn, tells his nervous partner (Josh Hartnett) to keep cool. Because H is played by Jason Statham, we know before anything happens that things are about to get bloody, and sure enough as the bad guys try to make off with the cash, H dispatches all of them with MI6-level precision.
No points for guessing that H isn’t quite what he seems. His coworkers at Fortico can smell it, but in the grand tradition of such plot devices, engage in precisely zero investigation. Thankfully, the script is about to double and triple back on itself in flashbacks.
I won’t reveal much else, but there are no points, either, for guessing that H has a history (duh) that includes less-than-legal endeavors and a killer’s instinct. As mentioned, we will see the money truck heist from at least two other angles which fill us in, sort of, on H and why he absolutely, definitely, had to work at Fortico and not somewhere else.
You’re not here for plot but “Wrath of Man” spends too much time hatching a puzzle that keeps Statham in the background for nearly half the running time. Suffice it to say (and I am giving away nothing), Statham will turn out to have a personal connection to the initial truck heist and the hijacker crew include one unhinged member whom Statham will naturally meet in mortal combat near the end.
It’s a strange choice and tone for filmmaker Guy Ritchie, whose work in England has put terrible violence in counterpoint with gallows humor, often to great effect. Here he plays things completely straight; such as, if there are any laughs it’s because of characters’ poor decisions and decidedly unwoke locker-room banter. Be warned, ye social justice warriors.
The ingredients are there, and even though Statham has made a career out of being perhaps the most one-note star in Hollywood history (would it be too much to ask that in at least one movie he adopt any other speech pattern than his native cockney?), “Wrath of Man” largely misses the mark by trying to marry revenge drama, heist caper and crime drama all into one bloated whole—pick a lane?
Now available for streaming and in select theaters.