The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (3 stars out of 4)

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is fun and stylish, but it feels like it should have been more fun and stylish.

Based on a 2014 account of declassified British intelligence archives, director Guy Ritchie’s film follows a kind of “Dirty Half-Dozen” on a secret mission to cripple the German U-Boat offensive during World War II.

The film opens deep into the Second World War, but before Pearl Harbor has brought the United States into the fight. Nazi Germany has seized control of most of Europe, and the Allies are back on their heels, unable to fend off the relentless armada of German U-Boat submarines.

Desperate to get a leg up, Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear) hatches a plan to disrupt the U-Boat supply lines that involves a small island off the western coast of Africa. But because the island is technically neutral territory, Churchill must send an expendable team of specialists to do the deed. Enter the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

The mission will focus on two fronts. First, a team of mercenaries led by a swaggering, mustachioed Major Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) will destroy the Nazi supply ship from the sea. On shore, a pair of crack spies (Heron and Marjorie Stewart, played by Babs Olusanmokun and Eiza Gonzalez, respectively) will infiltrate the German officers—led by a nasty sadist named Luhr (Til Schweiger)—and make sure no one on the island puts up a fight.

To make the plan work, a number of moving pieces must fall into place. The major’s team has to spring a critical asset out of prison, and Stewart is charged with seducing Luhr—no easy task, as she is half-Jewish. And if anyone—including the British military—catches the perpetrators, the mission is over.

“Ungentlemanly Warfare” fits nicely alongside the kind of cheeky movies that have celebrated WWII suicide missions in movies past—the aforementioned “Dirty Dozen,” even “The Great Escape.” Though his modern film is a lot more violent and a lot more stylish, Ritchie taps into the kind of charm that implies your heroes are up against it, but will undoubtedly triumph.

At the same time, Ritchie’s film isn’t quite as stylish as you might expect from the director of “Snatch” and the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films, and while it has enough stabbings and shootings to merit an R-rating, it’s nowhere near as bloody or violent as Quentin Tarantino’s take on an Allied hit squad in “Inglorious Basterds.”

Tack on a two-hour run time, and “Ungentlemanly Warfare” has the feel of a movie that is plenty of fun, but not entirely memorable; it’s a film that would have benefitted from an effort to turn the volume up to 11 a little more often. The performances are mostly solid—Gonzalez gets the most opportunity to shine—but Schweiger is no Hans Landa, and half the Ministry is pretty forgettable. The pacing is just a little too sluggish, and after an opening sequence promises a fun, action-packed romp, what follows is fun, but not quite action-packed enough to rate against Ritchie’s best efforts.

A little more oomph might have set up the Ministry for its own run of cinematic adventures, but like 2015’s “Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” will ultimately become a promising one-off leaving audiences wishing they could have just got a little bit more.

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is rated R for sequences of stylized war violence, scattered profanity, and some brief shadowed nudity.

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