Here a spy, there a spy, everywhere a spy-spy. James Bond, Ethan Hunt (“Mission Impossible,”) Jason Bourne, and Napoleon Solo (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”)—all spies. What’s with the endless spy movies all the time? It’s just glorified snooping. And we obviously love it.
We love it so much, we picked this movie as a possible outstanding thing for people to go see in August. Today we are forced to eat our words.
What’s the word for when the movie trailer is so terrific, and you get all overcome with anticipation, and then the movie tanks? There should be a word for that.
Guy—Direct, Don’t Write
British director Guy Ritchie’s new spin on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” ’60s TV show is surprisingly dull, given that Ritchie is normally lots of fun. The problem is probably hubris.
When it comes to showbiz, after a while people often start thinking they can do everything—all aspects. Everyone’s job. Feel themselves to be a director, feel highly qualified to say what good or bad acting is, and think they can write.
Like Sylvester “Yo Adrian!” Stallone thought he could pull off light comedy, and Jim “Fire Marshall Bill” Carrey felt he could do heavy drama—Ritchie thought he could write comedy.
Granted he’s a very funny director, but directing is not writing, and the result is a lethargic, flaccid film without an iota of tension, which is why we’re calling it “spam.” Spam is also British; it’s a kind of low-quality canned ham, and since there’s so much hammy acting in “U.N.C.L.E., it needs to be called “The Spam from U.N.C.L.E.”
Plod. Er, Plot
So there’s a half-French, half-Italian agent named Napoleon Solo—no wait he’s all-American (Henry Cavill), who is required by the CIA to team up with a Russian KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to save the world.
The original series’ Cold War stuff doesn’t work anymore in 2015, but they decided to keep the 1960s Cold War time period, which does allow the Soviet and American agents to keep getting into fights—which would have been good if they were funny fights.
Solo and Kuryakin are managed by a British intelligence higher-up (Hugh Grant, totally phoning in a performance).
And so the CIA suspects a former atomic bomb maker has been abducted by Nazis, bent on world-power destabilization through proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology.
First Agent Solo rescues said bomb maker’s gorgeous auto-mechanic daughter, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), from East Germany to help find him.
The bomb’s being funded by a moustachio’d, Italian, formula-one racer (Luca Calvani), but his Lady MacBeth-like wife Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) is the brains.
The Odd Couple
Throughout, it’s “The Odd Couple” as spies—one’s dark, one’s blonde, one’s funny (supposed to be) the other is just not, and so on and so forth. They carry on like an old, unhappily married couple.
There are the usual things that happen in spy movies, that is, car chases, surreptitious bugging and de-bugging, the secret agent zip-lining over building tops using his coat to slide down the wire.
Henry Cavill as Napolean Solo seems to be doing his best impression of Agent Smith from “The Matrix,” except he’s supposed to be suave and debonair so it all ends up sounding like a smug Agent Smith doing Roger Moore smugly doing James Bond.
Armie Hammer, pretty decent as the preppie Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network,” is just bad casting for someone required to do a thick Russian accent and be exceedingly intense. His range is rather small. And while Cavill is hammy, Hammer is leaden.
Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress we excitedly predicted might be the next Meryl Streep … we have to rethink that statement … but she’s not bad, given the material. Better than both secret agent men.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is supposed to be an origin story, intended to light the fuse on a whole bunch of sequels. That’s just not going to happen. Unless Ritchie starts leaving the writing to the writers, cuts the homoerotic jokes that obviously and shamelessly pander to acquiring that demographic, stops hiring pretty boys (for the same reason), who happen to have substandard comedy chops into the bargain, and gets back to his gritty, funny tough-guy roots.
‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’
Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 14
2 stars out of 5