NEW YORK — Throughout the darkly sophisticated, but sometimes wildly wayward crime saga “The Gentlemen” (STX), writer-director Guy Ritchie keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
Yet his invitation to viewers to enjoy from the safe comfort of a seat in the multiplex the wry spectacle of characters outrageously violating the laws of God and man alike is one that should be resisted.
A seedy British private detective known only as Fletcher (Hugh Grant) serves as our narrator.
Fletcher is out to blackmail American-born drug kingpin Michael Pearson (smooth Matthew McConaughey). As the opening salvo in his scheme, he recounts to Pearson’s loyal consigliere, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), the complex web of facts he’s uncovered after being hired by Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), the editor of a London tabloid, to investigate Pearson.
His story centers on Pearson’s effort to sell his massive marijuana operation to fellow gangster Matthew (Jeremy Strong). But it also takes in the rivalry of two ethnic Chinese underworld figures, Lord George (Tom Wu) and Dry Eye (Henry Golding), the part played by a boxing trainer called Coach (Colin Farrell), whose pupils double as thugs, and the role of Pearson’s beloved wife, Rosalind (Michelle Dockery).
An energetic pace, witty exchanges and the effective spinning of the plot’s many wheels-within-wheels cannot compensate for Ritchie’s lighthearted outlook on brutal mayhem.
Lurid incidents intended to shock and amuse simultaneously, though they’re mostly discussed rather than shown, flout any standard of taste and tend to appeal to the audience’s basest instincts. Leering Fletcher, meanwhile, makes it abundantly clear that he’d like to bed Ray. The overall result is an aesthetically well-crafted but amoral movie.
The film contains pervasive violence with much gore, including an attempted rape, implied aberrant sexual behavior, a narcotics theme and relentless rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.