Hot spy action

Good looks, good laughs, no brains in formulaic spy flick

Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander and Elizabeth Debicki. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

I saw the new Guy Ritchie film, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., on a Saturday night at Lake Tahoe, and the scene that got the biggest laughs was one that involved a villainous scientist getting electrocuted in his own malfunctioning torture device while the two oblivious hero figures quibble in the foreground. The second biggest laugh came at the finish of an intricately arranged stunt sequence involving a large truck, a patrol boat, a loading dock and a drowning man.

These particular scenes seem to me emblematic of the movie as a whole, for better and for worse. Based on the popular TV series from the 1960s, it’s more do-over than remake. It’s still a slightly raffish action adventure involving two spies, one American and one Russian, in a flippant Cold War-era fantasy. But here the physical action and spectacle are greatly amped up and the character dynamics, amusing but formulaic in the original, seem even further diminished.

The movie’s Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) keep up appearances but are otherwise no match for the stars of the TV original (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, respectively). Alicia Vikander (as the men’s perky comrade and love interest) and Elizabeth Debicki (as the snarkiest and most glamorous of the film’s villains) add some spice but are mostly inconsequential.

Jared Harris and Hugh Grant play the film’s contrastingly sardonic spymasters, and they bring at least a little grit to their otherwise routine characterizations. But matters of character are mostly beside the point in this case.

Ritchie and company pay lavish attention to fashions of the 1960s and add some nice touches of the period’s music. But the slapstick electrocution and the unconventional rescue of that drowning man are the heart of the matter with this fatuous, diverting movie.

Like the most recent Mission Impossible, it’s really just a live-action cartoon with a monstrous budget. Mission is clearly superior with its set-piece action sequences, but there’s a bolder brand of comedy coming from U.N.C.L.E.’s rough, offbeat sense of humor.