Muddled comedy-thriller British spy stuff, elevated by the charms of Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander. Based on an old TV show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is rather perfunctory as done by Guy Ritchie (director of “Sherlock Holmes” and “Snatch”). What’s fleetingly amusing is its’ intended vibe to be a throwback to retro ’60’s colors and attitudes. Besides some blithe banter between the men and femme fatales, as well as some cavalier action scenes and split-screen tomfoolery that’s a shameless wink-wink, there doesn’t seem to be a confident reason for this movie to exist. The plot is nearly unintelligible the way it’s done, and then when you figure out, you realize it was just too lightweight to begin with.
Cavill is an American spy named Napolean Solo who has corralled Vikander, the daughter of an ex-Nazi, to join forces with him to track down a nuclear bombmaker. They team with a third teammate, Russian spy Illya Kuryakin, played by Armie Hammer who proves he can adopt a foreign accent but do so stiffly. I can’t say much about how they get close to the villains except to say that they crash a soiree, and take clues to infiltrate a shipping warehouse. Besides that set piece, the other big money was spent on an action climax that features a jeep, an ATV and a motorcycle, which has a “Great Escape” homage feel to it. Not bad. But it doesn’t set my heart on fire.
I look at Cavill, this time allowed to strut without a bad director hacking away his scenes (I’m thinking “Man of Steel”), and think he could indeed play Bond 007. He demonstrates panache, but also shows that he can be motionless and still exude strength. Vikander (from “Ex Machina”) is darling, looking fantastic in a parade of a ’60’s mod costumes, and can steal a scene bopping away while donning go-go girl sunglasses. Cavill and Vikander made good impressions with me, and despite being in a movie that doesn’t exactly work, I’m glad I saw it to see them.
There are few other noteworthy stars, so I will mention just two more. Hugh Grant is bumped into at first moment, then rises to prominence in the plot. It’s little more than a cameo as an agency director, but he’s a welcome addition here. Elizabeth Debicki is the nasty femme fatale with an affinity for Nazi torturing techniques. I was underwhelmed by her performance, but as a photograph subject she at least looks the part.
Most of the story feels like second-rate 90’s movies and recycled TV stuff. I wanted Cavill and Vikander to get into some racy wanton activity, but she gets paired off with Hammer instead (who is a zero in the bedroom department). In the future, I’d like to see a sultry noir with Vikander and a co-star that can measure up to her. Now that would probably set my heart on fire.
Note: I gave “Kingsman: The Secret Service” two stars earlier this year as well, but I do like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” much more than that one.
116 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
ACTION / TEENS AND UP / WEEKEND VIEWING
Film Cousins: “If Looks Could Kill” (1991); “I Spy” (2002); “Down with Love” (2003); “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2015).