‘Sherlock Holmes’ director turns his attention to retro spies

‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ poster

‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Rated: PG-13

From the same Guy who turned Sherlock Holmes into an action hero comes this reboot of the old ’60s television show. Rather than update it to modern day, director Guy Ritchie goes for that vintage feel of the fabulous ’60s when the war was cold but the fashions were hot.

Henry Cavill takes the role of Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer, fresh from the sting and ignominious distinction of starring in last summer’s biggest flop, “The Lone Ranger,” takes the role of Illya Kuryakin, the KGB counterpart to Solo’s CIA agent.

The opening credit set the tone; it features the Berlin Wall up amidst the deteriorating political situation between East and West. The setup: A former German scientist has disappeared, along with his extensive knowledge on how to build nuclear weapons. Remember, this is the height of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation was on steroids.

The dapper, cavalier Napoleon and the brooding, loutish Illya are mandated by their superiors to work together to locate the scientist whom they fear has been kidnapped by an Italian shadow organization bent on destroying the fragile world balance by unleashing their own nuclear weapons. Their only lead is Gaby (Alicia Vikander), an East German mechanic and the estranged daughter of the missing scientist.

Ritchie goes for a tongue-in-cheek camp kind of humor that will keep you interested long after you should be. It works with the time period and low-tech gadgetry that involves a certain creativity, since there were no such things as cell phones.

The retro feel is most evident in the clothing, with Cavill (who could pass for Don Draper’s younger brother) in beautifully cut Saville Row suits and Vikander clad in the finest ’60s mod look. The vibe extends to the characters themselves, with a casual insouciance that pervades the action. It’s a welcome switch up from the Sturm und Drang of most spy movies.

But as clever as it all is, it’s not as clever as Ritchie imagines it to be. As a director, he’s all over the place, veering from high camp to serious as hell in the time it takes Vikander to make a costume change, and the indecisiveness muddles the tone of the movie. But he does know how to put a car chase together, and there are some great stunts.

Late in the movie, Hugh Grant pops up as a MI6 handler named Waverly, and by the movie’s end, it’s clear this character will play a bigger role in the sequels. Sequels? That may be in doubt after the weak opening weekend, but I’d be up for more “U.N.C.L.E.”

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