Betrayed, Bothered, and Bewildered by The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Now that The Man from U.N.C.L.E., fired from a rocket launcher into the multiplexes this weekend by director Guy Ritchie, has debuted to not-stellar box-office numbers (at least here in the States, where it was whomped by Straight Outta Compton), I feel I can register my own disappointment with the enterprise without being a pre-party pooper. I saw the movie a ways back on a scouting mission for the magazine and entered the screening room in a receptive frame of mind (unlike New York’s David Edelstein, who confessed, “I had a hunch that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would be excruciating,” only to find the film “absolutely delightful”—oh, brother), ready to accept the movie on its own terms and report back on its success potential and coverage value. I wasn’t in critical mode, that is, putting the pre-frontal cortex on high alert and vigilant for subtle patterns and microbe details. If U.N.C.L.E. displayed the popular ballistics of a summer blockbuster, it didn’t matter what I thought personally, since I was there mostly as an intermediary.
But it’s hard to turn off the Swiss calibration of a critical apparatus such as mine, kept in ninja trim on a spartan regimen of Silver Age Flash comics and the latest installment of HGTV’s Flip or Flop. Moreover, no matter that I reminded myself ahead of time that very few of those in the target audience for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. will have seen the original TV series and have any memory residue or emotional fannish attachment, it proved impossible to part from one’s past as if it were a separate chamber of the brain that could be cordoned off. In the suburban stockade living room of my imagination, a boy sits behind a TV tray watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and that Coke-chugging lad is me. And that lad was none too thrilled with the liberties taken with the show, which added nothing except muscle, preening swank, and leaden irony.