'Avengers' too tepid a brew Review: It's not cool, like the old TV show. It's not hot, not even with Uma and Ralph and Sean. It is simply a movie to miss.

August 15, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

A few things you might consider doing instead of seeing "The Avengers": Walking the dog.

Turning the compost.

Re-grouting the bathtub.

Starting your 1999 taxes.

Buying a dog.

Starting a compost heap.

By now, the pop-culture literati (meaning people with nothing of substance or meaning to worry about) know that the entertainment media is in high feather over Warner Brothers' decision not to screen "The Avengers" for critics before it opened Friday.

The studio gives us far too much credit. The American movie-going public is famously immune to the rants and raves of reviewers, making up their own minds by sallying forth intrepidly regardless of critical opprobrium.

For those thinkers-for-themselves, "The Avengers" comes as swift and decisive punishment.

Bearing no resemblance to the mod 1960s television series on which it was based, "The Avengers" instead seems to be a warmed-over hybrid of the James Bond and Batman films, with none of those series' wit, style or smarts. Neither does "The Avengers" tap the camp, so-bad-it's-good potential of its putative inspiration. You keep hoping that Austin Powers will jump out from behind a passing lorry or bumbershoot, but to no avail. "The Avengers" just keeps on being unfunny, incoherent ,, and veddy, veddy boring.

Not only that, this movie actually makes Uma Thurman look kind of sweaty. Thurman, of course, plays Emma Peel, the cool, catlike beauty best personified -- still -- by Diana Rigg. In the movie, she meets her partner, John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) for the first time when they are paired by The Ministry (a cross between Scotland Yard, MI5 and C.O.N.T.R.O.L.) to foil the plans of one Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery), a mad scientist bent on controlling the world through controlling the weather.

There you have it. Not a whole lot more to say. But some burning questions still beg to be answered.

Are Mrs. Peel's clothes as cool as in the series? No. For one thing, they don't have that swing-thing happening. As everyone knows, Peel style was all about draping.

How's Ralph Fiennes? Pallid. Barely there. Faxed it in. Worse, there's almost no chemistry between him and Thurman. Indeed, the two make such a strain of saying everything with a raised eyebrow that what is supposed to be arch dialogue falls flatter than my arches. Screenwriter Don Macpherson's idea of sophisticated humor is evidently following every pseudo-smart remark or burst of violence with a bored-sounding "Tea?"

What was Sean Connery thinking? Gee, that would depend on which scene you're talking about. Do you mean the scene in which he dresses up in a huge teddy-bear costume to oversee a meeting with several other grown men dressed as teddy bears? When he exchanges painful sexual doubles entendres with Thurman in De Wynter's overheated greenhouse? Or when he crashes a government meeting in full tartans, raving like a Highland lunatic?

Why would anyone cast comedy sensation Eddie Izzard, who plays one of De Winter's henchmen, in a role that doesn't call for him to say anything? In all fairness, he does say something: a two-word phrase, one word of which is unprintable.

By the way, he has the movie's best line.

Tea?

'The Avengers'

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery

Directed by Jeremiah Chechik

Released by Warner Brothers

Rated PG-13 (brief strong language)

Running time: 90 minutes

Sun score: *

Pub Date: 8/15/98

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