The only explanation for “Wrath of Man” is that Guy Ritchie is tied up in a car trunk somewhere and a replicant is making movies under his name. A propulsive but wearily routine revenge thriller starring British action figure Jason Statham, it has none of the Ritchie hallmarks except the desperate macho trash-talking: There’s no wit, no surprises, no oddball supporting characters played by slumming name stars. The movie could have been made by any director. Correction: It could have been made by any reasonably gifted hack.
Statham, who has never raised his voice above an extremely annoyed whisper, plays a mystery man named “H,” who when the movie opens has signed up to work at a Los Angeles armored car company with a bad record when it comes to daylight heists. The other drivers taunt him as a Limey and a “cuck,” but they’re silenced after H. brings down a crew of masked robbers with extreme prejudice and the marksmanship of a special forces vet. That’s not a spoiler: H. has a backstory, but it’s more criminal than heroic, and his parenting skills took a beating one fateful day, so he’s extra-mad.
I think “Wrath of Man” is going for an iconic “Man with No Name Lays Waste to All Evil Before Him” vibe, and the ties to classic Clint Eastwood tropes are there in Statham’s raspy calm as he doles out the mayhem and in an actual second-generation Eastwood, Scott, playing the role of the most rabid of the villains. But Ritchie’s skill set has always been multilayered plotting, flashbacks and flash-forwards, and loopy tangents — the exact opposite of the Eastwood/Sergio Leone/Don Siegel school of linear action filmmaking. The two approaches cancel each other out, leaving a muddy uncertainty.
Example: On his first run for the armored car company, H. is told by a loudmouthed colleague (Josh Hartnett) that they’ll be picking up payroll from someone named “Hot Betty,” presumably someone who is amusingly very not hot. If the real Guy Ritchie were making “Wrath of Man,” we’d get a scene where we actually meet Hot Betty instead of just a name-check before and after the drop. And when the screenplay (co-written by Ritchie with Marn Davies, and Ivan Atkinson) does play games with chronology, periodically revisiting the same truck robbery from four different points of view (the drivers’, Statham’s, the robbers’, and another bunch of robbers), it only feels confusingly repetitive.
Even the gunplay, of which there is plenty, feels secondhand. The mild tragedy is that Statham’s growling sense of humor goes missing in the shuffle and a few decent actors are wasted: Hartnett; Andy Garcia as some sort of government official; Rob Delaney, the wiseacre from TV’s “Catastrophe,” as H.’s boss.
Ritchie is at an odd point in his career. Having made his name with high-spirited “bad lad” crime capers like “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000), he’s tried going mainstream with results good (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” 2015), mediocre (the Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies), dreadful (“King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” 2017), and Disney (the live-action “Aladdin,” 2018). I missed his previous outing, “The Gentlemen” (2019), but by all reports it was a wan attempt to rebottle the larkish spirits of the early films. With “Wrath of Man,” he seems awfully close to throwing in the towel. But couldn’t he have given it a little snap on the way down?
WRATH OF MAN
Directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Ritchie, Marn Davies, and Ivan Atkinson. Starring Jason Statham. Boston theaters, suburbs. 118 minutes. R (strong violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexual references)