Originally a popular NBC-TV show in the mid-1960s, starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, this action adventure has been revived by Britain’s hyperkinetic Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”). Set in 1963 in the midst of the Cold War, it introduces Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a preposterously preening thief-turned-CIA agent, who is forced to team up with a gruff, no-nonsense KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hamer). Both have been culturally programmed to never trust one another. Read on…
Their mission is to prevent a nuclear bomb from falling into the hands of the wrong people; in this case, the evil menace is personified by glamorously haughty Victoria Vinciguerrra (Elizabeth Debicki), a wealthy Italian heiress/crime boss.
Because of her familial connections, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a high-spirited East German defector/car mechanic, is along for the ride, reluctantly posing as Kuryakin’s fiancé.
Humorlessly co-written by Lional Wigram and Guy Ritchie, who previously collaborated on two “Sherlock Holmes” films starring Robert Downey Jr., and elegantly photographed by John Mathieson, it’s notable, primarily, for its mod style, visual flair, and boldly crafted subtitles.
The actors look debonair in their bespoke suits, like male models in ‘60s GQ/VOGUE. The classy set design is magnificent, the catchy retro-score is period-perfect, and the stuntmen strut their stuff during the rapidly edited chase sequences. But it’s all superficial.
Problem is: perfectly chiseled Henry Cavill’s smug performance is as stiff and bland as his “Superman” outing. There’s no twinkle in his eye, no sense of amusement.
Over the years, George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Tom Cruise and others have been rumored to be attached to this cliché-riddled spy spoof which desperately needs some star-power propulsion.
Speaking of that, charismatic Hugh Grant is wasted in a small part as Waverly, the operation’s British liaison, a supervisory role played by Leo G. Carroll on the TV version.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is a fashionable, yet forced 5 – and the fun has gone missing.