Movie review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E

What I watched: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Wait, the TV show or the made for tv movies or what? The remake directed by Guy Ritchie.

He was that guy who married Madonna but had nothing to do with W.E., right? Yeah, I hope not.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a 60’s spy show that, as far as most of us know, was one of many attempts to capitalize on the James Bond movies. Spies were in, and they were usually more about the agents than the clandestine agency they worked for. They were stylish and used almost Batman-ridiculous gadgets with grim seriousness.I’ve tried to watch the show on reruns when I’d come home from late shifts at work, and it would always be the same episode, the one that starred Sonny & Cher. Otherwise, what I know about it was from a soundtrack my mom owned, where the two main characters were having an “I’m up here” moment with a young lady, and that it starred Robert Vaughn. Robert Vaughn is a pretty awesome guy who looks and dresses sharp and practically winks at the camera when he’s in a movie we all know he could be doing something better with his time, but he still gives it his all.

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Guy Ritchie made Snatch, which is a great looking, wildly paced movie. He made some other stuff of debatable worth, some of which includes the words “Sherlock Holmes” and “Action adventure,” and a feature film about Madonna being trapped on a desert island. It was not a documentary about their personal life.

I’m not sure what possessed the film powers that be to make a feature film about The Man From Uncle (I’m skipping the acronym from here on) and I’m not saying that I’m the be all end of entertainment, but how great was this series? I’m guessing it was optioned in a time when every tv show were getting unnecessary and forgettable film adaptations. I can’t help but think of Get Smart, which had an adaptation I personally didn’t get through, and Starsky & Hutch, which was this goofy buddy comedy movie that probably had nothing to do with the tv show other than the car. The former was a great show parodying the spy genre and got an adaptation that was just about “wasn’t that a great show?” to the point where the cast didn’t want to even try to emulate the characters they were playing. The latter threw out whatever the original source had because it figured its intended audience wouldn’t remember the show or care for it, making a seemingly fresh slapstick comedy anchored by its cast, not the characters they played.

Where does this fall in? It’s a great looking film, of course. Also, I’m attractive-shamed by Henry Cavill. No tailor or designer in the world has a wardrobe they can make for me to be anywhere in the handsome-planet that this man lives, by himself, especially in a setting where someone said “you know what people like? Mad Men. Have everyone look like something from Mad Men.”

The plot was assembled from spy movie flash cards, where two cold war spies on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain (they are introduced fighting over an escape attempt over the Berlin Wall) with shady pasts are teamed up to find a scientist building a bomb for some ex-Nazis. The Scientist is the father of the mechanic girl that Napoleon Solo aides in leaving East Germany, so she has to pose as the fiancé of Illya Kuryakin, the KGB agent who tried to keep her from escaping in the first place. Okay?

That’s pretty much the entire movie.

The villain is this rich lady who is funding the bomb making. Napoleon Solo uses his thieving powers to enter a fancy racing event and charm his way into the rich lady’s pants. The mechanic practically does whatever she can to ditch angry KGB agent. At some point Solo & KGB partner go to a place that might as well have signs that say “Bad Guys Base Of Operations” to investigate if there’s any uranium or Scientists making bombs. Then the Mechanic basically gives the two up just so she can be with her Scientist father. The rich lady is on to Mechanic, forces the Scientist to finish her own private A-bomb, then kills him, and it’s up to our duo to work together to rescue the Mechanic. Will they do it, and diffuse the bomb?

Spoiler: the movie ends with Hugh Grant letting Solo, KGB guy, and Mechanic know they’ll be working together from now on, freeze frame, credits. And our cast looks pretty upset in this freeze frame, forever contemplating being stuck in these roles if there’s any future installments. Which there probably won’t be…

…which isn’t a shame, but there’s not much to this movie other than the style and Cavill himself, who has to play a character that has nothing to lose other than being a spy who might let Europe get blown up. Oh no, he used to be a thief? However will he redeem himself SNOOZE. Thankfully, he comes off as a less stern, friendlier Don Draper. He’s a fun character, but not a good one. As for the KGB agent, he’s at his most interesting introduced as a relentless invincible henchmen. Supposedly he struggles with anger issues, and is publicly challenged, but the suspense of “will he beat up people or not?” really doesn’t amount to much.

(Since this is a 60’s period piece, and since Mad Men was an enormously popular show, there was a lot of effort to match that style; I have no idea if tv series was this stylish or just of its time. Also, Lane from Mad Men is Solo’s CIA handler. In a nice touch, everyone pronounces “Nazi” the way you don’t hear today…check out the way Loretta Young in Orson Welles’ The Stranger pronounces it.)

Many action scenes are set up as music videos to the happenin’ soundtrack. Some of it is confusing but still entertaining, with a few moments of laughter. I don’t know if I should be laughing at a guy who was torturing Solo before getting his just deserts, but I did. For a spy movie where people are about to get blown up and a damsel is in distress, I don’t feel the danger. And while it never drags, it’s not exactly intriguing. There’s also the odd times where something happens, but the movie purposely covers up what, and then immediately after flashes back to that moment to explain. I have no idea who this was supposed to fool. Most people this movie is aimed at are probably too old for cinematic peek-a-boo.

So it’s not worth checking out? Oh, a little bit, especially the beginning bit in East Berlin. And sometimes a lot of flash can do more than just be filler.

That 60’s soundtrack was pretty sweet, especially the swingin’ theme. How awesome was it in Guy Ritchie’s Spy Movie Music Video? Um, somehow modern and retro hip? You barely hear the theme as Cavill is switching radio stations in a truck. Seriously, that theme kicks ass. Missed opportunity for something stylishly shot & edited in this stylishly shot & edited movie, guys.

I was born in the 1990’s. What’s the Berlin Wall? Is that like Wall Drug, but in Berlin? Jeez. I mean, really. You kids. Check out this documentary and learn a bit of something.

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