Before he began dabbling in live-action Disney and Arthurian legend, Guy Ritchie made his name on a certain kind of hyperkinetic filmmaking, all bloody, bloke-y swagger and style: Call it Cockney Gangster Deluxe. His pivot from helming scrappy underworld tales like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch to turning Will Smith into a blue genie in last year’s Aladdin may be one of show business’ more unlikely trajectories, but apparently, he’s been missing the old days; The Gentlemen is nothing if not a callback to the Locks of yesteryear, star-stacked and defibrillated with enough juice to jolt a gorilla out of cardiac arrest.

Though death, of course, is strictly a one-way street in this world: Ritchie kills a major movie star (or at least appears to) in the film’s opening moments, and many other men have a way of meeting the wrong end of a bullet, a deep freezer, or the forces of gravity. Matthew McConaughey moseys on screen as Mickey Pearson, an American expat made good (i.e., very, very bad) in London’s booming marijuana trade; Charlie Hunnam is his loyal right-hand man, and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery his flinty-eyed wife, Rosalind, a woman seemingly born in red lips and stilettos. His business rivals include the louche Chinese gangster Dry Eye (Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding) and a drab little ferret of a man called Matthew (Succession star Jeremy Strong, who delivers every line in a sort of strange, fey deadpan).

Colin Farrell drops in for a perfectly pitched cameo as Coach, a youth-boxing trainer inadvertently caught up in the action, stalwart character actor Eddie Marsan (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) appears as a ruthless tabloid editor with a long-borne grudge, and Hugh Grant, drastically de-Granted in leather blazer, pinkie ring, and gravelly ’ello, guvna accent, is the hungry paparazzo who sees it all.

You may need a flowchart to keep it all straight, and Scotch tape to keep your eyes from rolling back at some of Ritchie’s hoarier takes on race, class, and masculinity; if he’s grown emotionally over the past two decades, it’s invisible to the naked eye. (In 2020, does the idea of the predatory homosexual or inscrutable Asian still feel fresh to anyone outside his edit bay?)

As Mickey, a sort of Zen-spouting tiger shark in a three-piece suit, McConaughey often slides, seemingly unwittingly, into camp; you almost wish Ritchie had just gone all in and cast Nicolas Cage instead. And Dockery’s shrewd supporting turn aside, women generally get less screen time than the cars and cocktails do. But the movie, for all its retrograde politics and wham-bam machismo, can also be slick, silly fun — a giddy exercise in freewheeling nihilism, played to the hilt. B–

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The Gentlemen (2020 Movie)
In 'The Gentlemen,' Guy Ritchie returns to his gangster roots, this time with Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Henry Golding, and Charlie Hunnam.
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