More than 50 years after the achingly cool TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. exploited Cold War paranoia for rollicking entertainment, director Guy Ritchie continues to explore male dynamics in this globe-trotting spy caper.
The unlikely pairing of suave American agent Napoleon Solo and tightly coiled Ukrainian rival Illya Kuryakin during the Cold War remains unchanged in Ritchie’s script, co-written by Lionel Wigram.
While the original pairing of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum lent swagger and smouldering sex appeal to the politically divided operatives, Ritchie’s men – Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill – radiate impeccably tailored style over substance and sizzle.
The film is having a laugh to suggest that these strapping and chiselled agents, both over six feet tall, could conduct covert surveillance without drawing attention.
The film has the right ingredients, but no clear sense how to blend them smoothly.
Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) is the beautiful mastermind of a criminal organisation, which hopes to destabilise global peace using a warhead armed by scientist Udo Teller (Christian Berkel).
CIA handler Sanders (Jared Harris) instructs his debonair agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) to join forces with KGB counterpart Illya Kuryakin (Hammer) to thwart the nefarious plan.
The two men bicker and brood, give each other pet names, and dangle Udo’s car mechanic daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander) as bait to flush the scientist out of hiding.
En route, the agents forge an alliance with an unflappable British agent, Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant).
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. lovingly evokes the textures, polish and poise of an era that rebelled against post-war drabness.
If looks were everything, the film would twist and shout in snazzy kaleidoscopic split screens. However, characters are poorly developed and on-screen chemistry between the leading men and a shamefully underused Vikander is tepid.
“For a special agent, you’re not having a very special day,” Waverly quips to Kuryakin.
On this handsomely crafted yet bland evidence, nor is Ritchie.