“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is based on a semi-hit 60s TV series, and while director Guy Ritchie does a nice job capturing the style and feel of the decade with fashion, sets and music, he fails miserably at delivering a film with any actual substance. This should’ve been a light and fun summer popcorn spy adventure. Instead, it’s close to a complete F.L.O.P.
Ritchie was clearly trying to duplicate the successes of his “Sherlock Holmes” movies (BTW – the sequel was better than the original) by having Henry Cavill (aka the guy who plays our current Superman) and Armie Hammer (aka the guy who played two guys in “The Social Network”) as foes begrudgingly forced to work together to stop a nuclear warhead from getting into the wrong hands (how original). The plot of the film is continually explained to each of them by a handful of supporting characters speaking multiple languages. And early on, the two leads even recap the other’s life story TO EACH OTHER, just for the sake of the audience.
Both American thief turned CIA agent Napolean Solo (Cavill) and star athlete turned KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Hammer), both actors speak with phony accents – Hammer’s Russian, Cavill’s, James Bondian. I’m still debating which one is worse. Illya constantly referring to Solo as “Cowboy” made me think back to one of Hammer’s other recent bombs “The Lone Ranger”, another failed “buddy film”. As “U.N.C.L.E.” progresses, Ritchie tries other “Holmes” tricks, including having characters reveal how they pulled-off certain stunts, and re-showing previous scenes while “surprises” are being explained. A little of this goes a long way and all of it is unnecessary. It’s not cute or stylish, but is an insult to audiences who are much smarter than this director thinks.
And on top of all of this: “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is supposed to be an action comedy. There are numerous, intentional and extensive attempts to illicit laughs with dry, obvious dialogue and a few cringe-worthy scenes, including one in which Solo eats a sandwich in a truck while his partner is being shot at in a boat. In another, Alicia Vikander, who’s one of “U.N.C.L.E”‘s only bright spots (she gave a breakout performance earlier this year in “Ex Machina”) dances suggestively while Hammer is playing chess alone. It’s one of those “I fell bad for the actors” moments. This movie has a lot of those.
Hugh Grant pops-up from time to time, including in the final scene, which sets the stage for a sequel. If one is made, and I’m forced to see a different version of this misguided project, I may be forced to “cry uncle”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” gets a D+.
Running Time: 116 min.