"The Gentlemen" is a stiff, neat scotch in cinematic form. It's a palate cleanser for filmmaker Guy Ritchie, who snaps back into his "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" form after a vacation in Selloutville.
The gritty, sinisterly humorous movie is all about tough-talking criminals maneuvering against each other. There is no sign of Ritchie's shapeless, obnoxious big-budget meanderings such as "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" or the "Aladdin" remake.
The British Tarantino is back.
Ritchie's bell cow in this outing is Matthew McConaughey, who plays Mickey, a smooth-talking drug lord who is looking to get out of the game. Conniving and suave, Mickey navigates the U.K. underworld with panache. He deals out threats and intimidation disguised as innocuous small talk, and is quick to violence when the situation demands it.
Mickey looms even larger when he's off screen, whispered about by friends, associates and rivals in mythological terms. McConaughey infuses him with just the right ethereal touch to give the character impact.
There is plenty of support for McConaughey in the handpicked supporting cast. Chief among the standouts is Hugh Grant, who breaks type to play Fletcher, a sleazy thug who dabbles in screenwriting. Fletcher explains most of the movie's plot to Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) in an awkward meeting that serves as the film's framing device.
Henry Golding is the villainous Dry Eye, a rising gangland star whose legend nearly equals that of Mickey. And hanging around the peripheral is Colin Farrell as the tough-talking Coach, who views life as a Darwinist competition.
The life span of these so-called gentlemen is swift. Characters meet bloody, shocking ends when they make the wrong moves. People have a tendency to tumble out of windows, wind up in freezers or double over and retch due to poisonings.
It's odd to describe such a punishing and nasty film as "fun," but that's just what "The Gentlemen" is. Happily existing in a stylized cinematic dimension of sassy one-liners, decisive takedowns and drinks-pounding heart-to-hearts.
"The Gentlemen" may sag a bit in the climax, when the plot tries to out-clever itself to its own detriment, but this is the kind of movie in which the exuberance of the journey far outweighs the significance of the finish. It's good to have Ritchie back. Now to find a way to keep him away from historical epics or Disney remakes.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.