The Bore from “U.N.C.L.E.”
Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of 1960s television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. falls flat.
If Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or 2009’s Sherlock Holmes are any indication, Guy Ritchie knows how to make a fun movie. Even Sherlock, which has its flaws, was fun enough to distract you from them. So how is it that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. manages to be so damn boring?
U.N.C.L.E. has all the elements of an entertaining movie in place: 1960s espionage, split screens and quirky subtitles, two good-looking male leads bickering, and literally every trick in the hypothetical Guy Ritchie filmmaking primer. But despite being essentially a Ritchie ouroboros, it somehow lacks the charisma of his other films, which even at their worst were still fun as hell.
While Henry Cavill (who plays CIA agent Napoleon Solo) and Armie Hammer (KGB operative Ilya Kuryakin) have no shortage of individual charm (Hammer has my personal vote for hunkiest living man, and Cavill was Superman for Christ’s sake), they have very little onscreen chemistry—especially for a film whose entire premise hinges on the back-and-forth of its two male leads. With the exception of one short but perfectly played scene, in which Kuryakin and Solo get into a terse argument over women’s fashion, Cavill and Hammer seem to cancel each other out when they appear onscreen together, each one diluting the other’s allure, rather than enhancing it.
But, despite their lack of chemistry, the film gives both actors opportunities to shine on their own. Cavill has one particularly crowd-pleasing bit, in which he serenely eats a sandwich and sips a glass of wine while all hell breaks loose in the background, and Hammer plays Kuryakin’s inability to control his temper to great comic effect. Unfortunately, these scenes are few and far between. Instead, the film is packed with interactions so stiff it’s quite plausible the actors were never in the same room during filming, each coming in for his or her own separate green-screen session.
Cavill and Hammer seem to cancel each other out when they appear onscreen together, each one diluting the other’s allure, rather than enhancing it.
Elizabeth Debicki brings her A-game as Victoria, the film’s villain, and she and Cavill play well against each other, but she is not given enough screen time to inject any real life into the film. Debicki was also incredible as Jordan Baker in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which makes being the most interesting part of a disappointing reboot seem like a successful niche for her.
Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander delivers a solid performance as Gaby, the woman Solo and Kuryakin have been enlisted to protect, but once again, there is a palpable lack of chemistry—she and Hammer feel more like siblings than love interests. Sadly, the one-dimensional character Vikander plays does not allow her the opportunity to stand out as an actress—Gaby’s stylized mod outfits outshine her personality by a mile.
In fact, the sad truth is that the costume design outshines nearly everything else in the film—including the action—and U.N.C.L.E. is (ostensibly, at least) an action movie. FL