Guy Ritchie, who has been churning out big-budget blockbusters in Hollywood for the last decade (most recently the remake of Disney’s Aladdin), returns to his roots in British gangster comedies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with this hyper, smug and very nasty piece of work, which wrings guilty laughs from sudden bursts of violence, crude situations, and improbably florid dialogue. It begins with a bang when Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is apparently assassinated in a London pub. Pearson, an American expatriate, has built a marijuana empire in England. He and his British wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) have made a fortune by forging an alliance with financially strained British aristocrats, growing vast amounts of weed in subterranean gardens located beneath the grounds of their stately manors and sharing the profits. Deciding to get out of the business, Pearson is negotiating the sale of his assets to wealthy Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), rejecting an offer from Dry Eye (Henry Golding) to buy the empire on behalf of his boss, heroin kingpin Lord George (Tom Wu).
The talks are abruptly thrown into disarray when one of Mickey’s farms is attacked by a bunch of young boxers, pupils of a goofily principled Irishman simply called Coach (Colin Farrell). Incensed at what his boys have done, Coach offers his services to Pearson to make amends. All this is relayed to the audience through the narration of Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleazy private eye hired to get dirt on Pearson by scummy tabloid publisher Big Dave (Eddie Marsan). Fletcher instead tries to blackmail the drug lord, using his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) as an intermediary. But Fletcher presents his version of events in snatches that involve flashbacks, speculative inventions, and “rewrites” to cast it in the form of a screenplay, making it all suspect. There is also a grisly subplot involving Mickey’s decision to aid one of his aristocratic partners by rescuing his heroin-addicted daughter from a drug den. The death of her lover plays a role in the explosive finale that also explains the initial assassination attempt on Pearson. Ritchie’s screenplay shuffles together the various plot threads in combinations designed to surprise as their interconnections are revealed, with lots of raucous, bloody action and crass humor along with a series of false feints and wacky reversals at the end. Grant gives a scene-stealing performance and the other actors do their best, but overall the movie seems entirely too pleased with how outrageous it is, even as it misfires more often than hitting the target. Still, a strong optional purchase. (F. Swietek)