Movie Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
An odd thing happens when Hugh Grant makes an appearance about four-fifths of the way through “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”: I smiled and laughed a bit. There was lightness and fun to what he was doing and saying. He gave off ... what’s the word again? ... charm. The very thing missing from the rest of the movie.
Guy Ritchie’s “U.N.C.L.E.” wants to be light but it’s oddly heavy and tone deaf. Bits that should float through the air clunk to the ground. The repartee is sluggish, the charm absent. One moment Gaby (Alicia Vikander) is exuding a kind of rage; the next she’s drunk and doing a bad Tom-Cruise-in-“Risky Business” dance in a hotel room. Then we get the sadistic Nazi, with quick flashes of his concentration camp background, torturing the lead. Nothing funnier than concentration camps.
I don’t have any skin in this game since I never watched the 1960s TV show—not five minutes of it. In a way I was rooting for the movie since I want Henry Cavill (Superman, after all) to succeed. And he’s not bad. But his Napoleon Solo is too blasé without the necessary twinkle, while Armie Hammer’s Ilya Kurakin is too intense without any other redeeming quality. It feels like it should work—the Lone Ranger and Superman!—but it doesn’t come close.
Is it because Cavill, the Brit, is playing the blasé American, while Hammer, the blasé American, is playing the uptight Ruskie? On the chick side, you have the Swede playing the East German and the French woman (Elizabeth Debicki) playing the Nazi. It’s like Twister with nationalities. Everyone falls down.
So it’s 1963 and Napoleon and Ilya are the two top agents for the CIA and KGB, respectively, and they need to team up to find Gaby’s father, a former German scientist, who is helping remnant Nazis build the most powerful bomb of all. One bomb to rule the world, as it were.
They start out hating each other, of course—or Ilya hating, Napoleon shrugging—but it builds into mutual respect. We get exotic locales, hotel suites, cars that go vroom, but it’s never particularly fun, smart or sexy. None of it. Rarely have such good-looking people in such fine-looking clothes given off so little.
Is director Guy Ritchie done? Should someone turn him off?
I knew something was wrong when this was the first thing I saw in the film. It's background detail for the morons in the crowd, but surely a contender for worst fake headline in any movie ever:
As opposed to, you know, “PEACE!” or “WAR ENDS.” As if people in 1945 needed to be told which war.
But my favorite part is the last word in the subhed: “Foe.” Not Germany or Japan. Foe.