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‘The Gentlemen’ offers a few highs in a Guy Ritchie series that’s mostly smoke and mirrors

The story behind “The Gentlemen” might be more interesting than the show, with director Guy Ritchie rebooting his 2020 movie as an eight-episode Netflix series. Yet despite the dashing presence of Theo James as the unexpected heir to a cannabis empire, the net result blows by briskly enough but yields relatively few highs.

James’ Eddie returns from military service in the British army to discover that his late father, the Duke of Halstead, has left him the family’s sprawling “Downton Abbey”-sized estate, bypassing his understandably gobsmacked older brother, Freddy (Daniel Ings). The real surprise, though, comes when Eddie discovers that the property has become home to a criminal enterprise, forcing Eddie to deal with those behind it, his main contact being Susie (Kaya Scodelario), the ice-cold daughter of the reigning boss (Ray Winstone).

Lots of hair-trigger situations, violence and frantic negotiations ensue, as Eddie labors to compensate for his brother’s stupidity while trying to extricate the family from its ties to an assortment of nefarious and eccentric characters, leading to darkly comic encounters that give the show a decidedly episodic feel.

Despite Ritchie’s trademark visual style (seen in “The Wrath of Man” and the Robert Downey Jr.-starring Sherlock Holmes movies), which coincides with lots of crank-up-the-volume music, there’s not much to distinguish the show from a host of others where ordinary folk find themselves thrust into a criminal milieu, sometimes discovering reservoirs of grit and sides of their personalities they barely recognize.

Giancarlo Esposito plays another drug kingpin in "The Gentlemen." - Netflix
Giancarlo Esposito plays another drug kingpin in "The Gentlemen." - Netflix

Still, similar concepts like “Breaking Bad” and “Ozark” have set a high bar, which might help explain the “meh” verdict. That’s despite a nice starring turn by James – much better served here than he was in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” – and a lot of classy talent on the fringes: Giancarlo Esposito (playing a character not far removed from his “Breaking Bad” role) as a drug lord with an interest in Eddie’s estate; Vinnie Jones as Halstead Manor’s gamekeeper; and Joely Richardson as Eddie’s mother, who is rather deliciously unflustered by all these dirty doings.

Indeed, part of the fun in these scenarios involves the gradual transformations and strange connections that occur when, to quote “The Gentlemen’s” ad line, “Old money meets drug money.”

In this show, though, it’s really more a case of an old idea meeting new packaging, with the added allure of attaching a director with a strong (if somewhat uneven) creative pedigree and vision.

Ritchie clearly appears to have had fun expanding upon the concept of his earlier film, which starred Matthew McConaughey. Whether the new mixture of talent and tone provides enough rationale for Netflix to invest its relatively new money is debatable for a show whose appeal, beyond the general atmosphere, mostly boils down to smoke and mirrors.

“The Gentlemen” premieres March 7 on Netflix.

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