THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Dir. Guy Ritchie, 2015)
Guy Ritchie’s update of the ‘60s spy television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. may be his best looking, and most stylish film, but sadly it may be his least interesting.
Now, I may be experiencing a form of formula fatigue after a summer of being bombarded by a bunch of big ass blockbuster wannabes, but this cold war action thriller struck me as so rote, and by-the-numbers that I almost nodded off a few times.
The duo of Henry Cavill (MAN OF STEEL) and Armie Hammer (LONE RANGER), as art thief/CIA Napoleon Solo and KGB agent Illya Kuryaki, the iconic roles previously played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, goes through the predictable motions: you know, at first they hate each other, then they build a grudging respect, etc.
The plot, which has them reluctantly paired together to stop an evil organization from building a nuclear bomb that could cause the “end of the world, that kind of thing” as one of the not so sharp lines in the screenplay by Ritchie and frequent collaborator Lionel Wigram puts it, is uninspired, tired stuff. It says a lot that Paul Feig’s Melissa McCarthy vehicle SPY from earlier this summer had a more involving narrative.
Alicia Vikander, an actress who is having a breakthrough year via major roles in EX MACHINA, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, and this, plays Gaby Teller, the daughter of a German scientist who was kidnapped by the bad guys. Gaby joins Napoleon and Illya on their mission, travelling with them to Rome where we find out who the film’s villain is: the glamorous blonde bombshell arms dealer Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki).
Some of the set-pieces pop – particularly a high speed chase involving a dune buggy, a jeep, and a motorcycle that slickly incorporates split screens – but most are workmanlike and without much momentum. It’s a shame that this project, that was in development hell since the early ‘90s, turned out to be such an unremarkable piece of product. And it’s one that’s stiff yet glib at the same time.
It’s also a bit amusing, more amusing than the actual material here, that almost everybody is playing another nationality. Cavill is British playing an American. Hammer is American playing a Russian. Vikander is British playing a German. Debicki is Australian playing an Italian. The British Jarred Harris, who plays Cavill’s CIA boss, affects an American accent that sounds like he’s imitating Ed Asner. When Hugh Grant popped up as the head of U.N.C.L.E. (which, by the way, stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), I was just happy that he was speaking with his real voice.
Ritchie’s reboot, re-imaging, re-whatever THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. isn’t without its charms – they are just in small supply. Cavill’s Solo exudes charisma, and gives us a little taste of what his Clark Kent could be like, but he’s crudely offset by the humorlessness of Hammer’s take on Illya. Vikander adds a nice splash of color to the proceedings, but mainly because of her mod dresses. Still, a bit where she dances drunk in a hotel room behind Hammer’s back is adorable.
So that’s another entry in this year’s summer cinema sweepstakes – a fairly forgettable re-branding of an old TV show. Fall can’t come soon enough.