Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rebooting the Sixties: "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

Like ham and cheese, summer and movies just go together.

Ideally, movies heavy on entertainment and action. It's the time of year that's hot and boring. Give us dinosaurs, and Arnold, and throw in some aliens or spies. Don't preach, and spare us "based on a true story" or "inspired by true events." If we wanted that, we would stay home and watch CNN.

While this year's crop has been lean, there have been some standouts that fit the tried and true Hollywood summer formula. Like "Jurassic World," that proved dinosaurs  running amok still can generate box office $billions. And Tom Cruise was back to wow us with his stunt work in "Mission Impossible -- Rouge Nation." We haven't seen the Marvel entry, "Ant-Man," but we are huge Paul Rudd fans (ever since "200 Cigarettes") and it's definitely on the list.

One film we did see that just hit the screens is "The Man from U.N.C.L.E," based on the 60s hit TV show of the same name. Directed by Guy Ritchie (he did the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, among others), it checks just about all the summer movie boxes: Entertaining, witty, fun and lots of action. And while maybe inspired by the Cold War, pretty sure it's made-up.

Starring in the title roles are Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo (he was Superman in "Man of Steel") and Armie Hammer as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin ("The Lone Ranger"). They are forced to team up to stop a sinister plot involving ex-Nazis and atom bombs (always a great combination for instant mayhem).

Joining them is Swedish actress and dancer Alicia Vikander, playing Gabby Teller, who we find out isn't all she seems (no spoiler alerts here). Ms. Vikander is a refreshing choice for the role. You may remember her as the captivating robot Ava in "Ex Machina," a fascinating exploration of where A.I. (artificial intelligence) could lead us.

While there are some places where the plot lags, you'll enjoy the ride, thanks to a script that offers both wit and laughs (the boat chase scene is a classic) and enough twists to keep you guessing. But the real star of the movie is how Ritchie has captured the look, feel and fashion of the Sixties. He nailed it.

It's a reboot of which I think the original TV series stars would approve. In that show, Solo was played by Robert Vaughn, and Kuryakin by David McCallum. Here's a recent interview with Vaughn on the subject. And just for fun, here's a clip of the show's opening:

Not since Ian Fleming and his creation, James Bond, launched the genre, it's doubtful movie-goers will ever tire of spy movies -- serious, fun or campy. (In fact, Fleming had a hand in creating Napoleon Solo. Check it out.)

We love our spy gadgets, femme fatales and action heroes. Hey, I'm shallow that way.

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