Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Cinema: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

We've been over to the new Cinemark in Playa Vista several times for dranks and a show but had yet to taste the food. It was a quiet night in their upstairs bar and restaurant with more employees around than patrons. I guess that's a true sign that not much is coming out this weekend huh? We chowed down on their edamame (not great, not horrible), mac n' cheese (excellent) and burger (too much mustard but good fries) with a few whiskey & ginger beers. It feels like it's been a while since we saw a new movie so tonight it was Warner Brothers' update of 1960's spy show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. starring Superman Henry Cavill and Lone Ranger Armie Hammer. Snatch and Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie co-wrote the script along with Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman and David C. Wilson based on Sam Rolfe's original work on the television series.

Set in the early 1960's, handsome and suave crook turned CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Cavill) is sent to find a missing rocket scientist turned bomb maker by recruiting his car mechanic daughter Gaby (Alicia Vikander, reminiscent of a young Carla Gugino). Only trouble is, Russian strongman agent with a temper Ilya (Hammer) has been given the same assignment. The U.S. and Russia deem a team up necessary and the odd coupled trio are sent off, facing underground Nazi villains. I never saw the show and had no expectations of what to expect. From the trailers I figured on a stylish, snazzy and exciting time shot on digital video. There's style and panache in droves here with clothes, cars and settings while Cavill and Hammer both do fine with one being a smooth talker while the other a volcano ready to erupt. There's a few funny bits in the film as we see what's going on behind our characters, usually including something exploding or being set on fire.

Ritchie, the man behind such great flicks as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Revolver and RocknRolla crafts an Ocean's 11 meets a Quentin Tarantino spy film with big music and huge block yellow subtitles that has some memorable parts but doesn't quite equal a whole. I knew the film was under 2 hours but checked my phone (discreetly and with brightness low, of course) a couple times to see where we were because the pace just kind of languished. While his early, low budget work sparked with energy, visual stimulus and terrific casts, his big budget fare just doesn't keep my interest as well. I found Sherlock Holmes to be a bit of a CGI snoozefest and the digital work in U.N.C.L.E. wasn't amazing either. Any scene involving fast movement, especially at night, looked terrible in digital. I know that Ritchie is a big martial arts fan and practitioner so it was disappointing not to see one complex or choreographed hand to hand fight scene. Much of the action is implied and takes place off screen while we're left with one bathroom knockaround, a montage invasion sequence and boats chasing each other, etc.

I never saw the original TV show but knew it starred John Sturges alumni Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven) and David McCallum (The Great Escape). Sadly no appearance from either. Semi-retired Prime Minster of English Awesomeness Hugh Grant shows up in a small role looking very much his 54 years. About a Boy was great though, wasn't it? Costing an estimated $80 million bucks, U.N.C.L.E. opened to a disappointing $13 million this past weekend, getting crushed by N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. The project had been in development at Warner Brothers for a decade, almost being made with George Clooney starring and Steven Soderbergh directing but health issues forced the star to decline while Soderbergh walked after story and budget issues. Looks like U.N.C.L.E. won't be following in the franchise footsteps of Mission: Impossible any time soon.

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