Movie review: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is fun, forgettable
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.
* * 1/2 (B-)
Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Jared Harris, Hugh Grant, Luca Calvani
Rated PG-13, Action, 116 minutes
Glossy and enigmatic, Guy Ritchie’s resurrection of television’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is a period costumer’s dream come true. Its 1963 setting echoes that of the series that ran from 1964 to 1968 while the plot contrives to team an unlikely pair of spies, American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Russia’s Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).
In the interest of what looks best, some things have been changed. Cavill’s Solo is considerably younger than Robert Vaughn’s suave spy, while mop-topped David McCallum’s Kuryakin gives way to the very tall, conventionally coifed Hammer.
The Cold War is on, as is the dislike and distrust between East and West. The CIA has ex-art thief Solo over a barrel, so the reluctant recruit must work with Russian spy Kuryakin to defeat a ring of Nazi villains poised to acquire nuclear warheads.
Neither agent appreciates this arrangement, but their way is eased by Gaby (Alicia Vikander), the beautiful German girl who is also pressed into service because her father is the disappeared Nazi scientist constructing the illicit bomb.
The plot is simply a way to move from car chase to car chase and location to location, as the trio stops in Berlin, then Italy and then an adjacent private island. The period’s high-tech factories and fancy bank vaults are on display along with its top-drawer hotel suites, flashy parties and spacious offices representing the best of ’60s decor.
Taken on its own merits, the film looks groovy enough, and the chases, while not particularly exciting, feature cool cars and other vehicles piloted by handsome characters who frequently wreck the conveyances in cartoonish, bloodless fashion.
It’s a bit shocking to see Hugh Grant, lately scarce on the big screen, turn up in the role of British Intelligence supervisor Waverly. Wearing close-cropped hair and a pair of vintage eyeglasses, it’s left to Grant’s signature dimples and muttered sarcasm to identify his welcome presence.
Co-written by director Guy Ritchie, who has never favored substance in storytelling, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is as pleasant and predictable as instant pudding. The film’s most enjoyable attributes are its furnishings, props, bold costume jewelry and women’s cat-eye makeup. Those hoping for either a solid link to the TV show, or for character development, should rest assured — you miss nothing by missing this one.