U.N.C.L.E. movie underwhelms in U.S. opening

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

UPDATE (Aug. 17) — Revised figures on Monday, ACCORDING TO THE NUMBERS WEBSITE, put The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie at $13.4 million, compared to $60.2 million for Straight Outta Compton.

(ORIGINAL POST): The Man From U.N.C.L.E. underperformed in the United States and Canada, finishing No. 3 in its debut weekend with estimated ticket sales of $13.5 million, according to THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Guy Ritchie’s reinterpretation of the 1964-68 television series trailed Straight Outta Compton, a film about the rap group N.W.A. at $56.1 million and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, in its third weekend of release.

The Tom Cruise M:I film had estimate weekend ticket sales of $17 million, according to A TWEET from Exhibitors Relations.

Straight Outta Compton initially was estimated to produce a $30 million opening weekend and is coming in at almost twice that. It also was also shown on 2,757 screens, compared with U.N.C.L.E.’s 3,638, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

Over the weekend on social media, there was some debate about all this. Those who were annoyed (or worse) that the movie didn’t retain the series’ secret headquarters, Jerry Goldsmith theme (only a few notes were used in the film), or who wanted different casting, etc., said the results validated their positions.

The answer, though, may be more simple than that. It could be that outside of the aging U.N.C.L.E. fan base (including folks such as the Spy Commander) and the younger Henry Cavill fan base, there weren’t that many people who wanted to see the movie.

Warner Bros. can’t be blamed for a lack of marketing support. The studio bought ads all over U.S. television the past few weeks. For example, it paid for a two-minute ad on the ABC prime-time telecast of the ESPN ESPY awards. The spot ran shortly before transgender ex-athlete Caitlyn Jenner picked up an award for sports courage, the main highlight of the show.

Would having Jerry Goldsmith’s full theme boosted the box office take? If a great Goldsmith theme had that much impact, the 1973 series Hawkins on CBS would have lasted longer than a season and the 1975 Archer series (as in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer) on NBC would have run longer than six episodes.

Would having the secret HQs, complete with Del Floria’s tailor shop have changed the outcome? 2015 audiences already had a secret HQs in Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was basically an updated version of the U.N.C.L.E. secret HQs of the show.

Would having, say, Jon Hamm, the star of the now-completed Mad Men series, as Napoleon Solo instead of Henry Cavill changed things?

Hamm’s Million Dollar Arm in 2014 was No. 4 its opening weekend in the U.S. at $10.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It finished with worldwide box office of $38.3 million. Of course, to be fair, he also was the voice of Herb Overkill in Minions, which had worldwide box office of more than $900 million.

Would having cameos by Robert Vaughn or David McCallum, the stars of the original show, increased ticket sales significantly? Would ticket sales double or triple? Or would they have risen by 1 percent or less? Meanwhile, McCallum endorsed the film in a Fox News interview and that doesn’t seem to have had much impact.

For Warner Bros., the best hope for the film may be in overseas markets. The DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD website reported there were early signs of a better reception in various countries, including Russia.

Happy 90th birthday, Mike Connors

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Aug. 15 is the 90th birthday of actor Mike Connors, a familiar face to American audiences.

His spy entertainment credentials include Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film that rode the spy craze of the decade.

Today, that movie is a bit of a curiosity item, particularly how it bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1979 007 film Moonraker (except for its budget).

The main item of Connors’ acting resume is the 1967-75 detective series Mannix. The lead character, Joe Mannix, seemed to absorb a considerable amount of punishment in solving his cases.

Mannix dabbled occasionally in espionage, including a second-season episode where there was a spy played by Hugh Beaumont.

The series also had a two-part episode in its seventh season, where Mannix gets recruited by the U.S. government to help out the rebel leader of a South American country.

In the final season, there’s another two-part story where Mannix gets involved in international intrigue outside the U.S. That two parter was based on the Victor Canning novel Venetian Bird. It also had the last score for the series by Lalo Schifrin, who penned the show’s theme music.

Connors was already 42 when Mannix first aired. He had been a basketball player at UCLA and was still athletic enough to make a convincing action hero. During the filming of the pilot, he was injured while dodging a helicopter, a scene that would be used in the main titles of the series.

Miscellaneous notes about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

No real spoilers (in terms of giving away plot points) but the most spoiler adverse should avoid until they’ve seen the movie.

A few tidbits after seeing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie twice:

Alternating lead billing: Armie Hammer (Illya Kuryakin) gets top billing in the main titles while Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) gets top billing in the end titles.

Possible in-joke: In the end titles, we see Waverly’s dossier and discover he was, at one time, an opium addict. Director Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes movies in 2009 and 2011. The great detective was known, on occasion, to partake of opium. A passing reference to the director’s previous work?

Missed opportunity for an in-joke: The Waverly dossier in the end titles gives his birth date as March 1, 1913.

It would have been really cool if it had been April 29, 1913, the birth date of Norman Felton, the producer who initiated U.N.C.L.E.

Beyond that, a bespectacled Hugh Grant (who turned 53 during production) as Waverly looks somewhat like a 51-year-old version of Felton in The Giuoco Piano Affair, which aired in the first season of the 1964-68 television series. Obviously, some projection on the part of the Spy Commander.

A credit of note: Felton got an “executive consultant” credit on the movie even though he passed away in 2012, more than a a year before the Ritchie film began production.

Presumably, Felton’s credit was the result of a contractual obligation. John Davis, one of the producers of the movie, originally optioned the property in the early 1990s.

Thunderball reference: In the film, Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin beats up three Italian fellows, one of whom is named Count Lippi. The 1965 James Bond film included a minor villain named Count Lippe. Interestingly, the character was referred to as Count Lippi in a 1961 draft by Richard Maibaum.

U.N.C.L.E. trails Straight Outta Compton on Thursday

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is assured of not being the No. 1 movie this weekend in the U.S. and Canada. The question is how far it will trail Straight Outta Compton.

The Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. film had ticket sales of $900,000 on Thursday, while Straight Outta Compton had $5 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is reporting that Straight Outta Compton, about the rap group N.W.A., may exceed $40 million in ticket sales for the weekend, while U.N.C.L.E. may total $16 million. The newspaper cited “analysts who reviewed pre-release audience surveys going into the weekend.”

Straight Outta Compton also has been better reviewed, with an 87 percent “fresh” rating on the ROTTEN TOMATOES website, while U.N.C.L.E.’s “fresh” score is 67 percent as of late Friday morning New York time.

REVIEW: Guy Ritchie adds an edge to U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

Director Guy Ritchie, after stripping out some familiar memes from his version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., adds in some edge that often wasn’t present in the 1964-68 television series.

It mostly works, although things don’t really kick in until the film’s second half. The first half is a little flat.

The proceedings get reinvigorated when Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo finds himself in peril starting at the midway point of the movie. From that point on, both Cavill and Armie Hammer’s version of Illya Kuryakin get more traction. Make no mistake. The movie remains light and breezy, but there’s a feeling of increased stakes.

The second half also is when Hugh Grant’s Waverly, a cagey British spymaster, starts to have a slightly bigger role. Grant, who turned 53 when U.N.C.L.E. was in production, is decades younger than Leo G. Carroll was when he played Waverly in the series. But Grant’s version is just as manipulative, if not more so, than the original.

Ritchie, who co-wrote the script with Lionel Wigram, essentially tore down the original show. No secret headquarters, no vast worldwide organization. Even if a sequel is made, it’s doubtful any of that would make a comeback in a Guy Ritchie U.N.C.L.E. universe.

Instead, the writers emphasize the basic characters — Solo, Kuryakin and Waverly. Even here, there are notable differences from the show. Solo’s still a womanizer who likes the finer things in life, but has a back story of being an art thief. Kuryakin is given a back story even more at odds with the show (which had very little background for the character).

Ritchie also emphasizes the Cold War setting in a way the original didn’t. It’s the initial layer of edge added by the director. The story begins in East Berlin as Solo, here a CIA agent, is assigned to “extract” Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), a mechanic whose estranged father is a missing nuclear scientist.

That’s the beginning of a long sequence where Solo and Gaby are pursued by the seemingly indestructible Kuryakin, here a KGB operative. Things move quickly and it holds the viewer’s interest.

By comparison, the rest of the first half, while not bogging down, doesn’t move as quickly. We get the set up.

A mysterious organization is close to building an atomic bomb. The U.S. and Soviet Union decide they have to work together. Solo and Kuryakin size each other up (an excuse to add more of the back story the screenwriters have devised). Gaby is to be part of the mission because she has an uncle who works for the company run by evil mastermind Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki).

Besides all that exposition, Ritchie is setting things up for the second half, but not in a straight forward way.

The director pays lip service to U.N.C.L.E.’s idea of having an “innocent” be part of the plot. Instead, it’s sleight of hand, introducing a complication that — stop me if you’ve heard this before — adds edge to the film.

Despite all the alterations in their backgrounds, Cavill and Hammer do provide recognizable versions of Solo and Kuryakin. Each one ups the other equally. Each saves the other’s life. They eventually do operate as a a team.

Once Solo gets captured — and is being tortured by a former Nazi who’s pretty adept at it — the preliminaries are over and film gets down to business. Cavill is suitably suave and the British actor is convincing enough as an American who thinks his way out of trouble as much as he fights.

Hammer’s Kuryakin, or rather “Edgier Illya,” is falling for Gaby and Hammer does fine taking advantage of those scenes. “Edgier Illya” has more than a few psychological problems, and Hammer gets to play with that also.

For those who’ve never seen the original series, there really isn’t a need to catch up before seeing the film. For fans of the show, the ones who accept the film as an alternative reality will like it just fine.

One of the highlights of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. It’s more Lalo Schifrin than John Barry, but that fits with Ritchie’s alternate universe U.N.C.L.E.

Some notes, mostly for fans of the show. Norman Felton (1913-2012), the executive producer of the series, is credited as an “executive consultant.” Sam Rolfe (1924-1993), who developed the series and was its first-season producer, receives no credit. Meanwhile, the 1965 Hugo Montenegro arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme is heard for *maybe* five seconds when Solo is checking radio stations while in a truck.

Also, for James Bond fans, a character gets to share the name of a minor villain in Thunderball, although here it’s spelled Count Lippi.

Finally, the end titles show dossiers of the principal characters. It’s an effect similar to, but more subtle than, the little scenes that occur in the end titles of Marvel Studios movies. Fans of the show will likely want to review them to see even more differences, particularly with Waverly’s.

For the Spy Commander, the movie was a tossup in the first half, but the second charged things up. GRADE: B-Plus.

U.N.C.L.E. expected to have lowest spy opening of 2015

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is expected to have the lowest U.S. opening weekend of 2015 spy movies, according to A STORY BY THE WRAP ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEBSITE.

The Wrap doesn’t couch its story exactly that way. Instead, the website’s story focuses on the box office prospects of Straight Outta Compton. Here’s an excerpt:

But it’s clear that the fan base for N.WA. — an acronym for Niggaz Wit Attitudes — is mobilized, and analysts say that alone will drive a box office debut north of $30 million, enough to dethrone Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” when Universal Pictures rolls it out in 2,751 theaters on Friday. The Guy Ritchie-directed “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” an action film starring “Superman” star Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer based on the 1970s TV show, is projected debut in the high-teen millions.

Translation: The U.N.C.L.E. movie is projected to have an opening weekend under $20 million, while Straight Outta Compton will exceed $30 million. For the record, the U.N.C.L.E. television series ran 1964-68, but that doesn’t change how the movie version isn’t seen as doing well at the box office.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had an opening weekend of $55.5 million (the initial estimate was $56 million).

Taken 3’s opening weekend was $39.2 million, Kingsman: The Secret Service’s was $36.2 million and the comedy Spy’s was $29.1 million.

The No. 1 spy movie all along has been projected to be SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. SPECTRE is coming off Skyfall, which had worldwide box office exceeding $1 billion in 2012.

If the projections for U.N.C.L.E. are correct, it will trail last weekend’s Fantastic Four movie, widely seen as a flop with $25.7 million.

Fantastic Four was a more expensive movie than U.N.C.L.E. and its $75 million production budget. But that’s a subtle fact that tends to get lost in stories about the weekend box office.

Ian Fleming, without whom, etc.

Our annual post.

On the 51st anniversary of the author’s death, this headline has a double meaning.

Obviously, without Ian Fleming there would be no James Bond novels and thus no James Bond movies.

What’s more, had Fleming not written Thrilling Cities, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t have occurred. Television producer Norman Felton originally was contacted about trying to turn that book into a series. Felton didn’t see a series but ad-libbed a pitch. That led to meetings in late October 1962 between Felton and Fleming in New York.

In the end, there’s not a whole lot of Fleming in U.N.C.L.E. But he was still a catalyst for the show and without that series, there’d be no movie coming out this weekend.

Fleming-obit

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