“The Man From U.N.C.L.E” (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) which opens in San Francisco Aug 14 is as far from the original 1964-1968 television show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and Leo G. Carroll as can be. Directors should be able to take liberties with remakes but the expectation is that they should at least be better. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” was bound to be remade but it should have been done by a director less pretentious than Guy Ritchie. Luxury may be the world that he surrounds himself in but the film is empty with ions of designer labels flashing across the screen.
All three actors are miscast – CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), though he is closer to his character than the others, Alicia Vikander as a new character called Gaby (the introduction of a regular major female spy in the original series did not happen until the fifth season with Barbara Moore), a very tall KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) and Hugh Grant as Mr. Waverly, appallingly functional.
Ritchie shows the origins of U.N.C.L.E for the unitiated, basically an agent from the west referred to as “Cowboy” by the agent from the east. In the original TV series the organization T.H.R.U.S.H (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity) was so ruthless that both the east and west decided to cooperate. This is also a premise of the James Bond films, and to some extent Ritchie’s U.N.C.L.E.
Alicia Vikander as Gaby is currently a hot property being used in all sorts of new films. It is rare to see a film that the Swedish actress is not in today, as with Ingrid Bergman’s days in Hollywood. However, the 25-year-old actress looks like a child in the film, not only because of her petite size but also because she is not a mature actress yet or can play mature roles. She is the “go between” – between the east and the west, posing as Illya Kuryakin’s fiancé in the part of the film that takes place in Rome. He chooses her wardrobe and she stands more than once on a table because of her height for inspection or wardrobe adjustments. Her skills include being a mechanic, and at night she wears striped men’s designer pajamas and downs a bottle of whiskey.
Henry Cavill has gotten Robert Vaughn’s famous elocution down but only as an imitation of the original. Armie Hammer is an oafish Russian with more muscle than brain though David McCallum was just the opposite. The team of three depart from the semi-seriousness of the original TV show and engage in a farce of light entertainment. Their quips are so transparent that they have the rhyme and meter of canned laughter.
The story begins in 1963 in Berlin, two years after the Berlin Wall was erected, to divide the east and the west. The CIA and KGB team up to keep a nuclear missile from being sold to the highest bidder. In another vacuuus role, one of the bidders is the wealthy heiress and business woman Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), two years younger than Alicia Vikander but more mature and clever than Gabby. Aren’t spies supposed to be smart? An inventor, Gaby’s father, is forced to make an atom bomb for the Nazi’s. Solo gets Gaby out of Berlin and attempts to drive from Check Point Charlie over the Berlin wall when their car becomes sandwiched between two buildings. Prior to that Illya has tried to stop the car with his bare hands.
Judging by the cosy looks that Solo, Illyam and Gaby exchange at the end of this light action luxury product placement saga, it appears that Ritchie is set on reuniting these characters. The art design of the film is classy but without the coordination of characters with a well-crafted script in a dynamic direction the result is at best cinematic window dressing.