As British secret agents John Steed and Emma Peel fence their way around a tailor's shop (an exhibit of swordplay devoid of even the slightest swash or buckle, by the way), Mrs. Peel explains her cutting-edge work in the field of atmospheric physics:
"We were bombarding protons and ions to make anti-matter," she explains, clanging steel with Steed.The folks behind "The Avengers" have come up with something almost as cutting-edge: the anti-movie.
A stultifyingly dull re-do of the '60s TV series that starred Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, "The Avengers" is a thoroughly inert yarn featuring a frosty, charmless performance from Ralph Fiennes as the bowler-and-brolly-wielding Steed, and a frazzled, charmless performance from Uma Thurman as Mrs. Peel, who is sometimes referred to as Dr. Peel, because of all her work with protons and ions.
Not even Sean Connery can wake things up: As August De Wynter, a tartan-clad fiend whose evil plot involves making the world's weather really, really bad (he's El Nino with a brogue), the actor seems to have lost even his magisterial voice. Connery speaks as if there is raw oatmeal in his mouth, and at one point he appears dressed as a giant teddy bear. (At another point, after he's injected Mrs. Peel with something akin to a date-rape drug, Connery starts to move in on the supine, zonked-out Thurman. It's all terribly tawdry!)
The only thing that this dismal, depressing exhumation of the witty old TV show has going for it is the production design. London swings like a pendulum: there are dazzling architectural wonders, both modern and classic; the gardens are wonderfully green; the "Ministry" - where Steed goes to answer to his parentally monikered chiefs, Mother (Jim Broadbent) and Father (Fiona Shaw) - has an agreeably musty air; and Steed and Peel's pads are respectively classy and refined, cool and chic.
Campy without being clever (or funny), "The Avengers" tries awkwardly and with no success to re-create the sort of suave, snappy sexual repartee that Macnee and Rigg had going in the original. (Macnee makes a brief appearance, in a manner of speaking. Dame Diana, sensibly, does not.)
"The Avengers" has been directed with a dazzling lack of imagination by Jeremiah Chechik, a Hollywood helmer who has already wreaked havoc on a Chevy Chase franchise ("National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation)" and a classic French thriller (Chechik's remake of "Diabolique"). Somebody send this guy back to the TV commercial/rock video land from whence he came!
And somebody call Austin Powers, quick!