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‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E’ Tight, Nimble and Remarkably Good Fun

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill star in the movie remake  of the hit TV show 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.'

Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill star in the movie remake of the hit TV show ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’

“The Man From U.N.C.L.E” made me cry uncle… I liked it, so much! Full Disclosure: I was a huge devotee of the TV series which was a massive hit for four seasons (1964-1968), so I was perfectly prepared to dis the movie as a cheap knock-off.

The TV show’s stars Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo) and David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin) were like pop gods. Don’t believe me? Look it up.

Who could replace them?

But the thing is, little connection exists between the movie and the TV-show. “And, why should there be? The original audience for the show is long gone,” wrote Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy.

Regrettably, he’s right.

The movie’s all been re-done and re-written.

Notes from the Original TV Show
David McCallum and Robert Vaughn.

David McCallum and Robert Vaughn.

The thing that instantly got me about the original “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” television show was the fact than none other than Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) came up with the character. Solo even appeared in the very first Bond movie. TV show Producers Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe eventually came on board and streamlined the concept and chose actors Robert Vaughn and David McCallum for the starring roles. The show also had an uncanny knack for brilliant casting. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy both starred in a 1964 episode, “The Project Strigas Affair,” a full two years before “Star Trek” aired. Shatner played a heroic civilian recruited for an U.N.C.L.E. mission. Nimoy played a rival of the villain’s henchman. The villain was portrayed by Werner Klemperer (“Hogan’s Heroes”) and Star Trek’s James Doohan appeared in multiple episodes, each time as a different character.

–Winchester

Solo is now a war profiteer doing penance by working for the government. Funny, but it works.

Kuryakin’s a Russian spy. First he tries to eliminate Solo; then joins as a full-fledged partner per his handler, a harsh Jared Harris.

The two begrudgingly begin a relationship and find that they are more alike than not.

They pair up on behalf of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, or U.N.C.L.E. Their mission is to stop a mysterious international criminal organization, which is hell-bent on destabilizing the balance of power with a hijacked nuclear bomb.

I must admit, I have never been a fan of Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer (exactly what did he do in “Lone Ranger?”). But after their performances here, count me in the club. They’re both terrific.

Alicia Vikander (“Ex Macina”) and Elizabeth Debicki (”The Great Gatsby”) are spot-on, too. Also, Hugh Grant as handler Alexander Wavery is superb. His dry humor works on all cylinders.

Everyone from Steven Soderbergh to Tom Cruise and George Clooney have, at one time, been involved in this improbable remake, making it star-cross from the get go.

Remember the “Get Smart” remake with Steve Carell? It was ripped by critics, even though it was a solid box-office success.

But in this case, Director Guy Ritchie stepped up and fashioned a tight, remarkably nimble, fun and successful remake.

Ritchie employs screen effects that made his Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downy, Jr so captivating. He works splits screens and time-shifting moments into the script. They may at first confuse, but once you catch on, they work brilliantly to enhance the plot.

Ritchie isn’t oblivious to the show’s television past, either. He throws those of us who do remember the show certain Easter Eggs.

A comment about Solo’s tailor may seem odd at first, but true believers will instantly recall that U.N.C.L.E.’s New York City headquarters was entered by going through Del Floria’s Tailor Shop.

It was actually one of the four secret entrances located in Midtown East near the United Nations building. At the conclusion of the movie, which perfectly sets up the sequel, Solo has a new code name: UNCLE.

What can I say, beside “uncle.” I was totally delighted. Tight, taut and fun, Ritchie has pulled off another enormously delightful epic.

“The Man From U.N.C.L.E” opens Friday, Aug. 14. For the latest movie reviews, be sure to follow IM on Twitter.


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