Friday, June 24, 2016

Cry U.N.C.L.E.

I'm not immune to the sensibilities of director Guy Ritchie, having enjoyed his feature film debut, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. But I've found many of his other movies average at best, and to that list I can now add his most recent, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Based on the 1960s television show of the same name (which I've never seen, so I couldn't say how faithful the adaptation is), the movie centers on two Cold War super-spies, one American and one Russian, who are forced to work together for the greater good. I checked out the movie, hoping for something like a throwback James Bond sort of film -- spiked with some of Guy Ritchie's high octane action. There was plenty of the latter, less of the former... and less still of any real sense of fun.

It doesn't make for a helpful review, I know, but I'm hard pressed to identify exactly what was wrong with the movie. I can only say that it became really bogged down in between the action set pieces. After an eye-catching opening chase sequence to introduce all the main characters, the movie would plod along for long stretches, testing my patience, before arriving at the next action scene. Touches of macabre humor were occasionally entertaining, even as they seemed somehow jarring within the 1960s period setting.

Perhaps much of the problem rests on the shoulders of the two leads, Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill. I enjoyed the former well enough in The Social Network, and the latter well enough in the TV series The Tudors and the movie Man of Steel (my problems with that movie weren't about his performance). But here, the movie seems to find both men more charismatic and charming than they actually come across. The macho brinksmanship between their two characters wears pretty thin too.

The casting problems don't stop there, as the movie underuses Hugh Grant and Jared Harris in minor roles. But there is one performer who does stand out: Alicia Vikander, who appeared here in the same banner year she made The Danish Girl (which I have yet to see) and Ex Machina (which I loved). She has charm to spare, and drags the movie's more effective moments out of Hammer and Cavill. She's the one thing the movie has to offer beyond its exhilarating chase scenes.

Inoffensive but quite forgettable, I'd give The Man from U.N.C.L.E. a C-. It's no worse than many a big, dumb action movie, but I suspect true fans of that genre would prefer a bigger, dumber, actionier movie than this one.

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