The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
There’s a killer car chase at the beginning of Guy Ritchie’s zippy but empty feature-film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., with grim KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) pursuing suave CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) through the streets of East Berlin, as Solo attempts to get Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a German scientist, safely across the Berlin Wall. It’s fast-paced, funny and easy to follow. Kuryakin projects unstoppable menace, Solo and Gaby banter playfully, and everyone’s motivations are simple and clear.
The movie stalls out after that, and for the next two hours Ritchie throws buckets of style onto the screen but fails to generate an interesting plot or bring any further dimensions to the characters. The short-tempered Kuryakin and the smooth-talking Solo are forced to work together by their respective governments, in order to track down rogue former Nazis on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb, and they need Gaby’s family connections to do it. Set in the 1960s, the same era as the TV series it’s based on, U.N.C.L.E. is filled with gorgeous outfits, lavish locations, lively music and attractive performers, but its pleasures are entirely superficial, and they peter out fairly quickly.
The plot is full of twists and yet lacks any sense of urgency, and Ritchie further confuses the narrative by frequently leaving essential bits out of certain scenes, only to flash back to them mere minutes later as if revealing some shocking new development. Instead of making the characters seem ingenious, it just makes Ritchie seem like he thinks the audience is dumb.
None of the action sequences can top the opening car chase, although there are plenty of explosions and fights and further chases as the film goes on. Ritchie throws in extensive use of split-screen and even some flashy variations on subtitles, but he and co-writer Lionel Wigram still can’t make the plot more engaging. The banter, refreshingly glib at first, ends up being just as hollow as the scenery. The characters make plenty of quips, but they never manage to say anything.