Patrick Macnee, Anthony Zerbe, Keenan Wynn, Geoffrey Lewis,
Gayle Hunnicutt, Tom Mason, Judith Chapman, George Lazenby
Years Later Affair
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Reviewed by Will Harris
fter the castaways were finally rescued from Gilligan’s island in 1978 and earned ridiculously strong ratings for their trouble, it became standard operating procedure to revisit ‘60s TV series in the form of reunion movies. The best of the bunch tended to be the ones which were first and foremost concerned with revisiting the old series for nostalgic purposes; when someone within the food chain had their eye on possibly using the movies as springboards for new series, however, they often felt forced, filled with desperate attempts to be hip, now, and happening in order to corral the current generation of viewers. With “The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair,” we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the two poles.
There’s no question that screenwriter Michael Sloan was a fan of the original series (and, apparently, of quite a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s TV shows, since he also wrote the screenplays for “The Return of the Six-Million-Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman,” “The Return of Sam McCloud,” and more than 20 episodes of “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues”), given that he’s thoughtfully crafted many tributes to the original series - most notably a farewell to Alexander Waverly, who had been played by the late Leo G. Carroll - while having fun with the inevitable effects of age on Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). When Solo gets the first call from Channel D in a decade and a half through his radio pen, he’s forced to create the excuse that he has “a new battery in my pacemaker.”
We find that Solo is living the good life, gambling for fun and profit in Las Vegas, which adds considerable weight to Vaughn’s longstanding claim that Albert Stroller, his character in “Hustle,” is doing approximately the same thing that Solo would’ve done in retirement from U.N.C.L.E. Kuryakin, meanwhile, is a fashion designer, of all things, but he seems to be enjoying his new life. Throw in Patrick Macnee as the new head of U.N.C.L.E., then add a villain played by Anthony Zerbe, who’s rarely played anything but a character with his eye on world domination, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a fun romp.
Unfortunately, the script sometimes falls back on in-jokes a bit too much, particularly during a car chase scene which features a comment from Solo’s female companion that the chase “reminds me of ‘Bullitt’” (“I’m familiar with it,” says Solo, dryly) and an appearance by George Lazenby as the Aston Martin-driving “J.B.,” who offers assistance then drives off with the closing line, “Always available to help a colleague.” The bigger problem, however, is the decision to pair off Solo and Kuryakin with new agents for too much of the film. Clearly, the goal was to spin off a new “U.N.C.L.E.” series, but it never happened, which is ironic, given that sticking solely with the time-tested chemistry of Vaughn and McCallum would’ve been far more likely to secure a pick-up for such a series.
Still, even with the flaws, “The Fifteen Years Later Affair” is worth watching in order to see the old fellows getting back to business once more. (It also might be a bit of a treat for fans of “Hustle” and “NCIS” to see what Albert Stroller and Ducky were doing to pay the bills during the ‘80s.)
Special Features: The only bit of bonus material is a trailer for the film, and given that it was only ever a TV movie in the first place, one presumes this was created for some sort of overseas theatrical release. Whatever its origins, however, it’s far from must-see viewing.