The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024)

Rating: C-

Dir: Guy Ritchie
Star: Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Eiza González

If I wanted to watch a slightly gayer version of Inglourious Basterds… Oh, wait: I wouldn’t. Never mind. I’m beginning to wonder if Ritchie will ever recover from his dalliance with Madonna, and consistently deliver content at the quality of Snatch. For every step forward (The Gentlemen), it feels like there are then two back, with first The Covenant, and now this. This is almost an Asylum-level knock-off of Basterds: Til Schweiger is a low-rent knock-off of Christoph Waltz, González is a low-rent knock-off of Mélanie Laurent, and with his enthusiasm for Natzee-killin’, even Ritchson is playing a low-rent knock-off of the Bear Jew, Eli Roth. Or perhaps Jack Reacher’s grandfather, it’s hard to tell.

This is inspired by true events, though it appears to be about as historically accurate as Basterds too, beyond the basics. There was indeed an officially unsanctioned operation, seeking to damage the Germans’ U-boat supply infrastructure. Beyond that… I wouldn’t trust this film as far as I could throw it. While not quite going the Tarantino route of re-writing Hitler’s fate, America apparently entered the war due to the success of the mission here. rather than immediately after that Pearl Harbor thing, which happened two months earlier. Who knew? It may seem churlish to nitpick such points, but when your movie opens with the dreaded “Based on a true story” caption, I expect a certain commitment to… well, truth.

Leading things here is Gus March-Phillipps (Cavill), who is allowed out of prison, in order to go full Dirty Dozen and select his own team of misfits and renegades for an officially non-existent operation. These include Danish soldier Anders Lassen (Ritchson), and Geoffrey Appleyard (Pettyfer), who first has to be rescued from the Nazi stronghold where he is being held. Fortunately, it’s on the way to Fernando Po, the island off West Africa where their targets are located. Ritchie handles the action fairly well, although the bad guys often approach Imperial Stormtrooper levels of marksmanship, and general competence. The sequence which has them freeing Appleyard is probably the best, managing to do a good job of building our heroes as characters, while simultaneously mowing down large quantities of bad guys. Lassen’s enthusiastic use of a bow is particularly amusing.

The problem is much more the sections between the set-pieces, which are almost universally dry and uninteresting. That’s disappointing, considering how Peak Ritchie used to have a glorious ear for dialogue, which flew off the page. Here, the dramatic elements are flat, uninteresting, and occasionally eye-rolling, as when femme fatale Marjorie Stewart (González) suddenly switches to Yiddish while performing Mack the Knife for German troops. It is rated R, though I’m not quite certain why, outside of a naked woman dangling from chains, which might have strayed in from an eighties Naziploitation film. The violence, if occasionally gnarly, is mostly at the playground level with people [almost exclusively ze Germans] falling down dead. Unfortunately, the script seems to come from the same source.