In his pressed-and-starched adaptation of the ’60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie fox-trots through the Cold War like a politician breezing by a cocktail party, having the appropriate amount of fun for someone who does not intend to stay and help clean up after.
Though nuclear warheads and global crime syndicates are the challenges du jour, the geopolitical rigors never quite get to Napoleon Solo, the art thief-turned-American spook played here by Henry Cavill. Quick, effective and natty to a nearly irritating degree, Solo is cool by design; when he talks, he might as well be snapping his fingers to an inaudible beat. Illya, Armie Hammer’s stodgy KGB operative, gets tossed into the fray for the sake of wacky-partners contrast. Despite not really looking the part Hammer’s WASP-y features read more “water polo goalie” than “grizzled Cossack assassin” he gets the physically imposing bit right, and the rough-and-tumble stuff comes in handy once he’s forced to work with Cavill’s unflappable Yank to foil an international arms conspiracy.
With the help of a spitfire German auto mechanic (Alicia Vikander), the agents bop around Europe on a high-style work holiday, and Ritchie stays on hand to ensure that the stakes, so high on paper, remain laughably low on the ground. If there’s one thing the director knows, it’s action, and he wisely allows the era to inform his moves, tamping down his tendency for overproduction with the tools of the time period. It’s flashy, vapid, unchallenging stuff, and no one’s ever out of control, including Ritchie himself. (wide release)
City Paper grade: B