Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


I always find it helpful to wait a day or two after seeing a film to write about it. It gives me time to digest it in my brain, and my feelings often change. For example, I went to an advanced screening of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on Monday night, and left thinking it was okay. The crowds at these things are generally enthusiastic–maybe they’re in a good mood because it’s free.

But after chewing on it a while, I realize how misguided and dumb this film is. Directed by Guy Ritchie, and based on a TV series that no one under 50 is probably familiar with, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. attempts to do just what the show did–cash in on the craze for spy films, particularly James Bond and his imitators, like Matt Helm or Flint.

I barely remember the show, which ran from 1964 to 1968, but I remember the ephemera that came from it, like action figures and lunch boxes. In effect, this film is really an adaption of the lunch box.

The gimmick here is that it’s the height of the Cold War, and an American CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and a KGB agent, Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) are forced to team up to stop a billionaire (who has a private island, of course) from making his own nuclear warhead. They enlist a scientist’s daughter (Alicia Vikander) to help them, but she’s got her own secrets. Much of the film is the hostile byplay between the two agents, and a lot of double entendres. It’s an action comedy that is pretty good with action but not so hot with comedy.

The opening sequence, when Cavill gets Vikander out of East Berlin while Hammer is chasing them, was so good that it set me up for disappointment. There’s also a pretty good chase on the winding roads of somewhere in Italy. But too much of the film is just flash–lots of great period frocks for Vikander to wear, and comic moments when the anger-management-challenged Hammer beats the tar out of someone who annoys him.

I admire that Ritchie has set the film in the ’60s instead of updating it, so it looks great. But the script is a mess, not making much sense. The real villain of the piece is the billionaire’s wife, a Lady Macbeth type played with coiled elegance by Elizabeth Debicki. This is a nice twist on the villain thing, but not enough is done with it. I did laugh at sight gag in which she demands the phone after Cavill taunts her.

Hugh Grant is on hand as their boss Waverly, who was played by Leo G. Carroll in the TV series (goodness, can Grant be that old?). He does his Hugh Grant thing, and almost seems like an impersonation of himself. The film ends with a declaration that a sequel is intended, but if there is they’ve got to come up with a better story or it will just be all sizzle and no steak.

My grade for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: C-.


About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

5 responses »

  1. Wow, Slim with two early reviews in as many weeks!

    Too bad that this sounds iffy. Agreed that no one under 50 has much familiarity with the property. This is a case where having a star or two (and I barely count Grant, seeing as how he hasn’t been in a financially successful film in over a decade) might have helped matters.

  2. Pingback: ‘I See Movie’ of the Week: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ vs. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ | I See Movies

  3. Saw this last night and thought it was so-so. It’s generally OK to watch and has some enjoyable scenes but has an air of ‘seen it all before’ throughout.

    Probably the film’s biggest problem is its inconsistent tone. Sometimes it replicates the flashy style of 60s spy movies (and 60s films in particular) with split screens and zooms and its quite enjoyable on that level. But then it forgets about that style for long stretches and feels like a rote action film straight from the 2010s.

    Also, at times it seems like a Get Smart-style goofy, jokey spoof of a spy film (Napoleon Solo preferring to eat a meal while Illya fighting for his life, Napoleon & Illya debate a villain’s rosy future while the villain is being burned alive in the background). And yet most of the time the film wants us to take the plot and its characters seriously (or at least semi-seriously), especially towards the end. It just doesn’t mesh.

    Strange how they wasted Hugh Grant (underrated actor imo) by taking forever to bring him so late in the film; surely he could’ve done the exposition stuff that Jared Harris’ character does.

    Overall, it’s an OK timewaster that’s good to look at with some good performances (enjoyed Cavill’s performance and clipped manner of speaking) but it’s totally disposable and forgettable.

  4. I actually liked this, but I’m reading Marco’s comment above and struggling to recall anything he’s talking about. How was it only two years ago? Feels like four or more.

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