Certain beloved directors - Wes Anderson is an obvious example, but I'm sure we can all think of others - often get slagged for making the same movie over and over again. And while I'm sure we would in general prefer for directors to experiment and prod and try out new things, it's worth pointing out that at least some of these filmmakers are making the same movie over and over again well. By which I mean, consider the counterexample of Guy Ritchie, who made one extremely fun crime comedy in 1998 with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a reasonably fun semi-retread in 2000 with Snatch, and then made a remake of an Italian Communist art film starring Madonna in 2002, with Swept Away. And lok, good on him for figuring that the last of these was too far outside of his comfort zone, and he should stick to stuff he could actually do in the future. Which he has done, in large part, by just trying to make Snatch over and over again. Sometimes it's unambiguous, as with 2005's Revolver. Sometimes, it's hiding behind the flimsiest of disguises, as with 2017s "what if Snatch was set in medieval England" misfire King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Sometimes you have to squint a bit to see it, as with 2009's Sherlock Holmes.

His new film, The Gentlemen, is one of the unambiguous ones, and it comes as close to capturing some of that Snatch magic as any Ritchie film in the intervening two decades ever has. Honestly, I think it might only be one script change away from having largely worked (at times in despite of itself and its aggressively immature laddish attitude). That script change would have been a doozy, to be fair, requiring the film to be substantially restructured and given a new ending. But it would have been worth it it take out the film's needlessly self-referential framework narrative, which takes the form of seedy gay private investigator Fletcher (Hugh Grant) arriving one night at the home of Raymond (Charlie Hunnam), right-hand man to Great Britain's biggest marijuana mogul, the American-born Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey). Fletcher is quite confident he's come up with some particularly nasty and incriminating information on Pearson, at the behest of tabloid editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan), but he's willing to kill the story if Pearson will pay him £20 million. To prove it, he offers to read his story of Pearson's recent doings to Raymond, which he happens to have written up in the form of a screenplay, titled Bush. Indeed, wouldn't it be more fun if this was just a straight-up movie pitch? And If the film we were watching was the film Fletcher had written?

No, I actually don't think it would be much fun at all. For one thing, the film fucks it up: Bush was The Gentlemen's working title, and once that changed, half of the gag is gone. For another, it is exhausting. Fletcher has some one-liner about starting up the film projector, so the film cuts to a non-diegetic shot of a projector. That kind of thing. I mean, it's not usually that bad, but it is tiresome, and it does nothing for the rest of film anyway (there are no movie meta-moments within the actual plot). And cutting it out would have spared us from Grant's performance, a broad camp turn that suggests that all of the actor's notions of how gay men act were taken from studying '70s sitcoms (also, the character himself is just weird, suggesting that Ritchie really, really enjoys the thought of a straight man getting hit on by a gay dude, perhaps more than he cares about anything else in the movie).

The interior plot of The Gentlemen/Bush is, if nothing else, better than that. It is extremely convoluted and involves several different clusters of characters with different allegiances, but it basically involves the attempts by two different parties to manipulate Great Britain's pot marketplace, and Peason's counterattacks. It's vintage Ritchie stuff, with lots of short, sharp cuts and dialogue that goes all the way around the block to arrive at a simple point, but of course the fussy, filigreed writing is very much the point of the thing. It is luxuriously warped and caricatured comedy, giving a very well-stocked cast plenty of chewy lines to gnaw on furiously, and you can tell that almost all of them are having a great time of it. The most obvious exception is, unfortunately, McConaughey himself, who perhaps by reason of nationality, perhaps by reason of plot function, is saddled with portentous aphorisms and a general sense of being very grave and grounded and sagelike throughout. Given that he's also the most important character in the movie, it creates a weird tonal imbalance between the solemn and grandiose figure at the core of the story, and the ludicrous cartoon doodles surrounding him, keeping the thing from ever being as fun as it feels like it ought to be, with all the ingredients it has.

For it really does seem like it should  be fun. The cast is having fun. Colin Farrell is freed from the unlovely shackles of American filmmaking, where he always tends to do his worst work, and has landed on a strange mumbly figure peering curiously at the world through a giant pair of glasses; it's his best performance since The Lobster. Michelle Dockery is having as much fun playing Pearson's wife as a woman is ever going to get to have in a Ritchie film, getting the film's single best line delivery with the mildly excited warning "There's fuckery afoot". Hugh Grant is certainly having fun, though I do not think he has shared his fun with the rest of us.

And the film itself is fun-ish, given Ritchie's sense of "fun" includes some genially anti-social elements that just kind of squat there being unpleasant (including a nice thick slice of racial caricature: there's rival gang of Chinese mobsters pushing opiods on white girls of privileged society, for starters), and cursing and sexual double entendres (or, in Fletcher's case, regular entendres) standing in for wit. But it moves like a racehorse, cut quickly but never in the sloppy, choppy way of many wannabe-Ritchies. And the visual flourishes have a good amount of bright, shiny energy, though they are rarely if ever original flourishes, nor do they always seem ready to acknowledge that fully two decades have passed since the heyday of this kind of filmmaking.

For all its charms, seedy and otherwise, the film is just kind of heavy, though. It slows down too much around McConaughey's character, it cuts back too often to the framework, it lays down too many narrative puzzles whose solutions feel more obligatory than creative. If this kind of quippy, sleazy material is going to work, it needs dance - Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels danced. Snatch at least skipped. The Gentlemen clomps heavily, and while I'd obviously rather watch this than the absolutely sepulchral Aladdin (incongruously, Ritchie's last film) or the migraine-inducing King Arthur, but this is still a less-than retread, and while it's the first time in more than a decade that I've actually hoped that I might enjoy a new Guy Ritchie film in the future, I cannot say that I enjoy the new Guy Ritchie film right now.