If it caused some head-scratching that director Guy Ritchie’s most recent gig was Disney’s live-action “Aladdin,” it’s of course because he made such a lasting impression with his breakout credits.
A couple of decades on, we still associate Ritchie with such scruffy, mischievously macho gangster flicks as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000). We could see where his rowdy sensibilities meshed with Robert Downey Jr.’s two-fisted Sherlock Holmes for a pair of whodunits. But a singing blue genie?
Ritchie is back on familiar ground in “The Gentlemen,” a return to gang turf starring Matthew McConaughey and an all-new who’s-who of actors eager to get in on the colorfully seedy action. It’s a diverting if slightly undercooked throwback that could offer more genuine intrigue, but that’s still worth it to see the cast gamely chuck out the window manners and vanity. (Not everything here qualifies as “gentlemanly,” to be sure.)
Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) is an American expat who’s shrewdly parlayed his introduction to upper-crust British society — via a stint as a Rhodes Scholar in horticulture! — into a UK-wide cannabis empire. The Oxbridge set let Mickey set up shop on their cash-strapped estates, he cut them in on the profits, and everyone won. But he’s older now, and looking to spend more quality time with his “Cockney Cleopatra” wife (Michelle Dockery, offering a look of her own at a different side of “Downton Abbey” landed aristocracy).
He identifies a potential buyer for his business in another Yank, punctilious moneybags Matthew Berger (Boston product Jeremy Strong, HBO’s “Succession”). But even the suggestion that Mickey might sell is enough to trigger chaos in London’s criminal underworld, as a mercenary-minded private detective (Hugh Grant, rocking a bottom-feeder makeover) delights in explaining to Mickey’s even-keeled consigliere (Charlie Hunnam, back from Ritchie’s “King Arthur”). Cue scenes with young turk Dry Eye (Henry Golding, of “Crazy Rich Asians”) as well as a goofy parkour crew and their reluctantly entangled mentor (Colin Farrell, hilariously resplendent in a plaid Run-DMC getup).
The busy goings-on are entertaining enough, but also a little thin if we’re left to ponder them too long. Grant and his chatterbox dialogue are a hoot — critiquing Coppola? fantastic! — but the fact that he’s really only involved as a narrator feels like a tease. Also, why do we have an American lead character at all? For the chance to hear him drop consciously mannered lingo like “chaps”? Maybe Ritchie wanted to mine McConaughey’s “Dazed and Confused” stoner cred from way back when.
McConaughey does play it cool in a way that serves the movie capably, as opposed to his latest excruciating Lincoln ad, which makes us half-wish that his ice-fishin’, teeth-whistlin’ pitchman would just fall in. Still, it’s only when his kingpin comes to his queen’s defense, ferociously, that he feels indispensably cast. In those moments, Ritchie’s leading man can definitely be labeled “gangster.”
Directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Marn Davies. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Michelle Dockery. Boston theaters, suburbs. 113 minutes. R (violence, language throughout, sexual references, drug content).
Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.