Warning: Everything that the spy spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery played for laughs, The Avengers treats with earnest, deadly seriousness. This is a mixed blessing.
The 1960s television show "The Avengers" was, at its wryly British best, like a fantastical nonsense poem: The most outlandish situations and villains were greeted with slightly bemused detachment, inevitably resulting in a fight sequence where no one broke a sweat.
Meanwhile, the conventions of upper-crust England, with its vestiges of empire, were embodied in and parodied by the bowler-hatted, umbrella-carrying John Steed (Patrick Macnee). Swinging '60s London was also skewed yet trumpeted by the hyper-intelligent, ass-kicking, catsuit-clad goddess Emma Peel (Diana Rigg), the coolest of Steed's female sidekicks.
The Avengers movie, written by Don Macpherson (Absolute Beginners) and directed by Jeremiah Chechik (Diabolique), remakes Steed and Mrs. Peel (as she was usually called) in the attractive personages of Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman.
Along the way, Macpherson and Chechik drop literary references, rip off better movies (virtually reproducing a set from The Empire Strikes Back), manufacture an eerily depopulated London, and incongruously refer to dollars and Fahrenheit instead of pounds and Celsius.
Uma Thurman puts her lanky grace and all-knowing smile to good use here, but Ralph Fiennes highlights the film's major weakness. As an actor, he's like an empty vessel waiting to be filled with his character's personality. Unfortunately, this John Steed is a hollow man: a grave, charmless, reserved Englishman modeling immaculate Saville Row suits. Lovely as Fiennes's eyes may be, there doesn't appear to be anything going on behind them.
He, like The Avengers, is merely superficial eye candy.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].