Friday, 16 September 2016

The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015)

Having never seen Henry Cavill as Superman, I have to ask does he make as much of a hash of the American accent in them as he does here in The Man From U.N.C.L.E? He sounded Australian at times, especially in the scenes at the start of the film, set in East Berlin.

Fresh off the back of his success at creating two Sherlock Holmes movies in the buddy buddy vein, mockney moviemaker Guy Ritchie sets his sights on reviving the unlikely cold war partnership of agents Napoleon Solo (American) and Illya Kuryakin (Russian) of U.N.C.L.E, based on the hit US TV series that ran from 1964 to 1968 starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

It's a very glossy, stylish film but unfortunately it is also dogged by a crippling lack of zip and, much like the original series itself, it exudes an obnoxious smugness that is barely tolerable. Yes that's right I didn't really like the original series either. For me, the spy boom that sprang up in the 1960s at the height of the cold war - thanks largely to the success of the James Bond films - spawned many a cult espionage hit, often with various levels of tongue-in-cheek, but the greatest and most successful was made here in Britain; The Avengers. That series positively brimmed with effusive and effervescent charm, that frankly the natural arrogance of the young Robert Vaughn failed to match. The Man From U.N.C.L.E, like many other cheap and cheerful US derivatives of the genre, lacked the polish of The Avengers and the Bond films an possessed an underlying seediness,  as anyone who recalls Dean Martin's mutton-chopped, paunchy polo-necked Matt Helm will testify.

If the aim was to make a film as bland as the original series then you could say Ritchie has pulled it off, except Vaughn's instinctive smarm was still more palatable than the deeply uncharismatic Cavill, who fails to invest the necessary spark in his partnership with Armie Hammer's Kuryakin, who is a poor substitute for the dour and earnest McCallum. When will Hollywood realise it can do nothing with Hammer? It really is time to STOP! Hammer Time.

(Thank you, I'm here all week)

With none of the requisite brio and the central partnership pretty much boiling down to 'my gadget's better than yours' (rather like that old gag about the CIA training dolphins to attach mines on USSR nuclear subs...only for the USSR to train fish to attach mines to the dolphins), everything about this felt deeply laboured and not unlike one long aftershave advert. Ritchie swamped the film with lounge music and easy listening but it never feels natural, just forced. And speaking of forced, Hugh Grant's turn as Mr Waverly just proved that Grant can't really play anything other than Hugh Grant. Only the girls kept this remotely interesting; Alicia Vikander as the defecting daughter of 'Hitler's favourite rocket scientist' (yes, that's actually a line in the film) and Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in the BBC's adaptation of Le Carre's The Night Manager) who delivers a villainous turn as a silky svelte ice maiden. The sight of Vikander drunk-dancing in her PJ's to Solomon Burke's 'Cry To Me' is a brief, sweet highlight in a sea of admittedly glam looking dross.

Proof if ever it were needed that Guy Ritchie should not be allowed anywhere near the Bond franchise.

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