‘The Gentlemen’ review: You won’t believe that’s Hugh Grant

You’ll find this hard to believe, but Matthew McConaughey used to make movies about stuff other than drugs.

In the actor’s more innocent days, he played sober romantic leads in “The Wedding Planner” and “Failure To Launch,” among many other assorted types. But that time is long gone. Now, he’s high on films such as “The Beach Bum” (pot) and “White Boy Rick” (cocaine). In “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he won an Oscar, his character wasn’t selling Texas Monthly subscriptions.

McConaughey’s new comedy, “The Gentlemen,” co-starring a scene-stealing Hugh Grant, is among the best of the pot lot. The actor once again tries to find some substance in substances, playing one of the UK’s top marijuana dealers — a street-smart American who attended Oxford and gradually earned the respect, and money, of aristocratic Brits. Those well-heeled chaps gotta have their ganja.

THE GENTLEMEN, Matthew McConaughey, 2019. © STX Films / courtesy Everett Collection
Matthew McConaughey in action for “The Gentlemen.”STX Films/Everett Collection

McConaughey’s Mickey is the top dog in this enjoyable game of narrative Twister, as sexy as it is wacky, in which a revolving door of seedy types unexpectedly intertwine. There’s Fletcher (Grant), an underworld private eye with a Cockney accent, and Ray (Charlie Hunnam), McConaughey’s unflappable head of security. Colin Farrell plays an eccentric coach who teaches troubled kids how to street fight.

The strange story is told by Fletcher, who animatedly recounts the darkly comic events to Ray while attempting to extort him for millions of pounds. Pay up, or the information will be whisked away to the ravenous British tabloid press. The incriminating intel describes how Mickey and his goons, while trying to sell his pot empire to an Oklahoma billionaire, became responsible for a few unplanned murders.

And Michelle Dockery, as Mickey’s vicious wife, summarizes the plot well when she announces, “There’s f–kery afoot.” Why, Lady Mary! What would the Dowager Countess say?!

Confession: For the first half hour of “The Gentlemen,” I had no idea what was going on. There were drug deals, jokes and accents aplenty, but clarity a-little. That said, what makes director and writer Guy Ritchie’s film so ultimately satisfying is that it all pieces together seamlessly in the end, so stick with it. Ritchie also injects more wit than that of your average action comedy. A favorite: “In France it’s illegal to call a pig Napoleon, but that’s not gonna stop me.”

Hugh Grant sports scruff in
Hugh Grant sports scruff in “The Gentlemen.”STX Films/Everett Collection

Such clever chatter is delivered by a boisterous ensemble of actors that has great fun. McConaughey may get top billing, but it’s his co-stars you’ll remember. Like “Knives Out” did for Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis, “The Gentlemen” gives many usually serious stars a chance to lash out with silliness. Track-suit-clad Farrell has an excellent scene set in a chicken restaurant, in which the Irishman kicks two punks’ butts, while commentating on his own fight. And it’s positively naughty to see Dockery shed her “Downton” fineries for curse words and handguns.

But like he seems to do with every project these days, Grant runs away with the movie. The actor’s second act as a veritable master of disguise in comedies such as “Paddington 2” and “Florence Foster Jenkins” has been the No. 1 thing audiences needed but didn’t realize they wanted — the Taco Bell Doritos Locos of Hollywood. On paper, his part is little more than some strung-together quips in a parlor. But he makes a meal of it, disappearing behind his slimeball PI with panache. You’ll be shocked that this rodent of a man was once Bridget Jones’ hot boss.

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