The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (review)

A still from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Hoping the pounding 60’s soundtrack will jar the audience into enjoyment, this yarn evaporates into TV fluff.

uncleGuy Ritchie’s foray into the “James Bond” genre teeters on the edge of an unholy marriage of TV’s “Mission Impossible” and “Route 66” with leads of unidentifiable nationalities and two-dimensional haute couture. The confusion is not helped by sound bites of surf music.

Brit Henry Cavill plays American CIA agent Napoleon Solo who talks and dresses like James Bond and is almost completely lacking in the American qualities of the original actor Robert Vaughn. Los Angeles born Armie Hammer plays Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin and looks more like something out of the 1950’s “Route 66” than any spy genre. Together they hope the hilariously surging, pounding, percussive soundtrack will distract the audience from their accents and allow the audience to suspend disbelief.

A still from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
A still from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The action is un remarkable, a repurposing of car, boat and motorcycle chases. In spite of the odds, director/writer Guy Ritchie (co-written with Lionel Wigram, “Sherlock Holmes” screenwriter and “Harry Potter” producer) manages to pull off a passable buddy action comedy.

The standing joke is that the two politically opposed operatives must team up to save the world from nuclear destruction. The Russky Kuryakin is stereotypically tunnel-visioned, over-disciplined and brain-washed to the point where he can barely think. Yankee Solo has the clever, inventive, thinking-on-his-feet street smarts of the “typical” American. This allows both to show their stuff when the situation demands, the Russian pulling off super-human feats of strength and the American exploiting ridiculously complicated on the spot tactical maneuvers.
A still from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The cast and crew bring a wealth of experience in sci-fi fantasy and it shows. As long as the audience is able to suspend disbelief (suspend a lot of disbelief), everything is fine. Kuryakin develops a barely believable love-hate relationship with Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Solo flirts with death in the form of Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki). In the end, the real warhead is one place and the fake warhead is somewhere else and it comes down to Solo to do the right thing in juggling the warheads and saving the world. Why didn’t we think of that?

Rapid zooms and a Steve McQueen style “Great Escape” motorcycle sequence cement the 60’s feel of the production, which borders on the oppressive for those of us who have been there and done that. The appeal to the younger audience who never saw the original series (90% of those in attendance) remains to be seen. Perhaps this is just a hip, well-dressed “international” version of “Training Day” and the mystery of the cosmopolitan ensemble will save the day.

Hugh Grant plays CIA head man Waverly and appears to be barely aware he is on screen. His performance is no match for the Emmy nominated original Leo G. Carroll who was able to bring his dark background playing character parts in Hitchcock thrillers to his understated role as the man who pulls the strings.


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