Entertainment

Style Makes this ‘Man’

'U.N.C.L.E.' update skimps on chemistry

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer just might make the 1960s hip again.

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The stars of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” are lavished with so many retro suits and chic music cues you’ll want to jump in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and go back in time. Too bad the chemistry between the leads and their lovely co-star is like the equivalent of a Member’s Only jacket. Drab and out of date.

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The film brings the classic ’60s show to the big screen courtesy of “Sherlock Holmes” director Guy Ritchie. It’s sleek and handsome, and at times the banter actually registers as witty. It’s ultimately squandered during frantic chase scenes and a story that feels like warmed over Bond — from the late Roger Moore era.

The action begins with thief-turned-superstar Napoleon Solo (Cavill) squaring off against towering Russkie Illya Kuryakin (Hammer). The Cold War is raging, but their respective superiors force them to team up to find a scientist with too many nuclear secrets for his own good. Neither the Soviet Union nor the U.S. want that information in the hands of a rogue element, so Napoleon and Illya partner with the scientist’s daughter (Alicia Vikander) to find him.

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That requires Illya to pose as her fiance, a stale comic conceit that leads to a spark-free romance. Then again, the leads offer little in the way of heroic chemistry. Yes, they’re meant to be reluctant partners. What emerges on screen is more disinterest than passion.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the film, trots out so many style tics it plays out like an audition for a Marvel movie franchise. The director dissects the screen like a comic book panel, trots out lazy slow-motion sequences and even shakes and bakes the soundtrack’s identity. The occasionally thrilling score gives way to Mexican riffs and other cross-cultural snippets which make little organic sense. It’s kitchen sink storytelling, and it drains the elements of the film that actually click.for-teens

Take those retro gadgets, the kind James Bond once employed in his earliest incarnations. Then consider Hugh Grant in a small but critical role as a droll British overseer for our squabbling stars.

“U.N.C.L.E.” thrives when it coasts on its handsome leads and playful tone. So why throw an extended torture sequence mid-film? At one point Cavill’s Napoleon savors a glass of wine while Illya faces near-certain death nearby. The spies aren’t best friends at this point, but surely that kind of indifference is a play for a quick, and unearned, chuckle.

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“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” hit TV screens in 1964 just as the James Bond empire was exploding on the big screen. The film adaptation arrives in an age when super spies range from Bond to Melissa McCarthy. The new “U.N.C.L.E.” looks smashing, but it’s hardly needed anymore.

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