[Screen It]


(1998) (Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor None Heavy *Minor Heavy
Minor None Mild None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
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Mild Moderate None Minor Extreme

Action/Adventure: A top-secret British agent and his beautiful partner set out to stop a madman who's gained control of the world's weather.
After a secret meteorological installation and program, "Prospero," is sabotaged, "Mother" (JIM BROADBENT), the head of Britain's covert, top secret agency, The Ministry, calls on dapper agent John Steed (RALPH FIENNES) to investigate.

In doing so, Steed meets Mrs. Emma Peel (UMA THURMAN), a martial arts expert and doctor of meteorological science who happens to appear on the surveillance videotape as the culprit responsible for the sabotage. Claiming innocense, she and Steed set out to uncover what's going on, but "Father" (FIONA SHAW), the blind, second in command at the Ministry, doesn't trust Peel.

They soon discover that a wealthy and eccentric former Ministry member, Sir August De Wynter (SEAN CONNERY), is controlling the weather over Britain. In doing so, he has enacted a brilliant plan to extort the riches of every nation or else face the wrath of mother -- or in this case -- father nature.

As they track down and battle Wynter and his right-hand thug, Bailey (EDDIE IZZARD), with the help of Alice (EILEEN ATKINS), a Ministry veteran, Steed and Peel do what they can to stop Wynter and his plan.

Few will have knowledge of the original TV show, so unless they're fans of the high profile cast, they might not have a desire to see it.
The film was originally rated PG for "for action violence and some innuendo," but was bumped up to a PG-13 for the (apparently recent) inclusion of just one "f" word.
  • RALPH FIENNES plays a dapper secret agent who's as adept with his umbrella as a weapon as he is with a cup of tea as a social statement.
  • UMA THURMAN plays a self-assured woman prone to wearing skintight outfits who discovers that she has an evil clone (also played by Thurman) doing the dirty work for Wynter.
  • SEAN CONNERY plays the wealthy madman who's set out to blackmail the world's governments in exchange for pleasant weather.


    OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
    Based on the popular early '60's British cult TV hit that came stateside a few years later, and featuring a great cast, one would imagine this picture to be a "no brainer," guaranteed big hit. Although easily one of the more anticipated films of the summer — if only for the view of Uma Thurman in a skintight leather cat suit — "The Avengers" has received a less than glorious mid August release slot and absolutely no fanfare or advance screenings.

    That usually happens when the film is awful and the studio — in this case Warner Bros. — wants to keep the negative publicity down so that they can eke out whatever ticket sales they can from it during its first week. Well, that's definitely the case with this picture and you can bet that they're hoping and praying that ignorant moviegoers will flock to see this all-star, $70 million dud before the truth gets out.

    I'll admit that I've never seen the original show, so I can't state how this film compares to it. Nevertheless, I can only hope and imagine the original is far better. This hour and a half mess is listless, uninspired filmmaking at its best/worst and suffers from a ludicrous and meandering script, lackluster performances, and the genuine absence of the fun and spirit that made retro-hit "Austin Powers" such a treat.

    Supposedly set in the '90's but trying for that hybrid era appearance created by adding in heavy doses of 60's elements — courtesy of Oscar winning production designer Stuart Craig — the film is initially interesting to look at. However, that's about all it has going for it -- despite the stellar cast -- and proves that style means little if there's no substance beneath it.

    Case in point is a scene featuring a physical representation of Oscar Reutersvδrd's illusion-based endless staircase painting (where Uma runs around and supposedly down a staircase, but never gets anywhere as its last step always returns to the first one). It's initially intriguing, but once you realize it's all flash and has no real connection to the plot, it quickly loses its allure.

    Boring and haphazardly structured right from the start — thanks to the "efforts" of screenwriter Don MacPherson (1986's "Absolute Beginners") and director Jeremiah Chechik ("Diabolique," "Christmas Vacation") — the film flounders about without any apparent need or urgency — on the part of the characters or the filmmakers — to have anything particularly interesting happen.

    All of the main characters — both heroic and villainous — plod around the set without an ounce of motivation (or any semblance of having a plan of action) and the result is deadly for both them and the audience. Despite its efforts to jumpstart a few moments with some action set pieces —which are just as listless as the other material — the film comes off as a resounding disappointment.

    Feeling much like "Batman and Robin," Warner Brothers big dud from last summer (although this film makes that one look like a masterpiece), this seems like one of those efforts where the filmmakers believed that just by throwing a talented cast into a picture, it would come out great.

    For example, Chechik stages a fencing match between Steed and Peel while they deliver early exposition — a good idea in theory to keep a normally droll but necessary element from being too boring — but the entire scene is poorly executed. Symbolic of what's wrong with the rest of the film, everything about the scene feels awkwardly haphazard, and it's later followed by dialogue, character motivation and entire scenes that seem to come out of nowhere, briefly flit about on the screen and then disappear just as fast as they arrived.

    As equally disturbing and perplexing, for a film about secret agents the story is shockingly lacking in any sort of fun or innovative spy elements (beyond a coffee spigot in Steed's convertible). While there's a slightly amusing introductory scene where Steed much dispatch several would-be assassins and isn't sure who the next assailant might be, the rest of the film is an uninspired entry in the spy/agent genre.

    It also completely throws away the greatest potential it had concerning the villain's ability to control the weather. Sure we see it suddenly snowing in London, but two important things in particular are missing. First, the weather never seems to pose much of a problem for our protagonists or serve as much of a plot complication. Going beyond all of the natural disaster related films, think of "The Shining" and how the blizzard played a key element in keeping everyone inside the hotel with the deranged Mr. Nicholson. None of that occurs here.

    The most obvious omission, however, is not having the villain "sick" the weather on those trying to stop him. Where's the flood that's set to sweep them away, or better yet, the tornado to efficiently dispose of them and create some fun and tense moments? As exciting as "Twister" was during its funnel scenes, imagine if someone were controlling the tornado and sending it after the "good guys."

    Of course I'm fooling myself into expecting too much from this film that can't even muster a decent ending. Obviously not much thought went into creating it, and thus the villain is boringly defeated, his weather system is easily "defused" and a self-destruct plot element — often successfully utilized to generate some last minute suspense — is completely disregarded.

    No, Chechik and MacPherson are more interested in showing us a scene where Connery and his cronies are dressed up in multicolored, full-size teddy bear suits (I kid you not). Used to hide the identities of those in cahoots with the villain (and hopefully in some reference to the original show -- I can't imagine this being an original thought) the material comes off as ludicrously bad when presumably it was supposed to be funny or at least cute.

    Likewise, a pointless scene where Steed encounters an invisible man (once again, no kidding) will have many wondering whether Claude Rains has been resurrected, as well as why they still use the decades old, and still cheap looking, effects to represent the transparent character.

    The performances are about as uninspired as the rest of the film, which is so surprising considering the two Oscar nominees and one winner involved. Ralph Fiennes ("Schindler's List," "The English Patient") tries to fill the shoes of the original Steed, Patrick Macnee, and while he looks and acts suave and sophisticated, there's absolutely nothing below those surficial qualities and his quickly irritating smirk.

    Likewise, Uma Thurman ("Pulp Fiction," "Batman and Robin") looks great and is always fashionable, but we never know anything about her or her evil cloned twin. Finally, there's Oscar winner and former Bond man, Sean Connery ("The Untouchables," "The Rock") in the role of the villain, but he's barely been given enough time on screen, let alone much of a menacing character to have any sort of impact. Wynter doesn't frighten or come across as particularly interesting to the protagonists or the audience, resulting in a boring and utterly listless time for all.

    All of which leads us down to what may be the film's only redeeming quality (at least in the eyes of hormone driven young men) — Uma Thurman in a skintight leather cat suit. Popularized by Diana Rigg in her brief stint on the original show, the look is appealing on Thurman, but she doesn't quite give it the same tantalizing feel that Michelle Pfeiffer exuded in her similar outfit in "Batman Returns," so even that element is a bit of a disappointment.

    Other than paying respect to the original show, it's extremely questionable why this talented threesome signed up for this turkey. Sure, the money was probably good, but it's highly unlikely any of these three are hurting for cash or offered parts, and you'd think they'd at least wish to preserve their dignity. Take our advice, if you want to preserve yours, you might want to skip this film. We give "The Avengers" a 1 out of 10.

    One use of the "f" word gives this film its PG-13 rating. Beyond that, some non-graphic violence occurs (several deaths and lots of fighting), as does some very mild sexual innuendo. Besides the standard issue bad attitudes among the villains, the remaining categories have little, if any, major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you or someone in your home wish to see this film, you may want to take a closer look at the content to gauge whether it's appropriate in your eyes.

  • Steed and Peel briefly drink wine.
  • Steed, Peel, and "Mother" celebrate with champagne.
  • None.
  • Obviously, Wynter (along with his cronies) has both for wanting to extort money from governments in exchange for pleasant and calm weather, and for several deaths (but all of it's very cartoon-like in nature).
  • A Ministry member turns out to be working with Wynter.
  • The youngest of viewers may find some scenes listed under "Violence" as a little tense (such as the fight scenes where the hero precariously holds on from falling to their death) but hardly anyone else will (the same holds true for a scene featuring a bevy of huge, flying mechanical "insects" that fly after and shoot at Peel and Steed).
  • Knives/Pistols/Umbrellas/Machine guns/Darts: Used by various people to threaten, fight, wound or kill others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Giant, flying mechanical "insects" fire machine guns and explosives at Steed and Peel in her car.
  • Phrases: "Cocky little bastard," "Shut up" and "Horse's ass."
  • Some kids may want to imitate the fencing that Steed and Peel participate in, or the similar fights using a closed umbrella or other objects as weapons.
  • None.
  • A few scenes have a mild amount of suspenseful music in them, while others occasionally have a slightly ominous tone playing under them, and a few others feature action-oriented music.
  • None.
  • 1 "f' word, 1 ass, and 1 use of "By God" as exclamations.
  • Peel walks into a sauna where she finds Steed sitting nude on a bench reading a newspaper (that covers such nudity until we see him from behind where we see the upper part of his bare butt).
  • Some extremely mild sexual innuendo appears in a few scenes, such as when Peel asks Steed what his plan is for her over the weekend. He states that he's a nature lover, so he'll just do "what comes naturally."
  • Standing in Wynter's dripping greenhouse, the villain tells Peel, "One should never fear being wet."
  • Then, as both Peel and Steed cram themselves into a telephone booth, he states that he's "adjusting my equipment" and she adds, "Nothing broken I hope" (but he's referring to his umbrella).
  • A receptionist shows a bit of cleavage.
  • "Mother" smokes nearly every time he's on screen.
  • An actress posing as a nun smokes, and a man in a gentlemen's club smokes a pipe.
  • Bailey smokes, as does an invisible man (yes, you read that correctly) with a pipe.
  • None.
  • Real life weather calamities.
  • During what turns out to be a training session, Steed fights with several people, flipping some to the ground, hitting others with his umbrella, avoiding knives thrown by a woman, etc...
  • On first (and suddenly) meeting Peel, Wynter momentarily grabs her by the throat.
  • Peel's evil clone shoots a three-pronged dagger at Steed and then pulls out a gun and shoots him point-blank (but we later learn his trench coat is bulletproof).
  • Wynter throws two dart-like objects into two men (in bear suits) who then fall unconscious or dead onto the table in front of them.
  • Steed fights off Bailey and several other thugs with deft use of his umbrella and several punches and kicks.
  • Peel's evil clone jumps her and the two briefly struggle.
  • Many huge, flying mechanical "insects" fly after Steed and Peel in her car. They then fire machine guns and explosives at the two, but several crash into various objects and explode. Steed eventually gets one of their machine guns and shoots several from the sky.
  • Alice (non-graphically) kills a thug with shots from a machine gun and fires at another man who escapes.
  • Wynter and Steed briefly spar, umbrella versus cane.
  • The evil Peel clone knocks out Steed.
  • Alice holds a gun on Wynter, but Bailey knocks her out from behind.
  • To prove that she's traveling in circles, Peel takes a bust and throws it the floor, shattering it, leaving its pieces on the floor as evidence that she was there.
  • Peel runs and jumps through and shatters a mirror (that's actually a wall to the outside).
  • Mother (a guy) holds a gun on Father (a woman) and the evil Peel clone, but Father jumps mother and disarms him, leaving him lying prone in the snow.
  • The two Peels get into a fight (punches and kicks) atop a hot air balloon.
  • A hot air balloon crashes into a building and explodes, presumably killing the two people onboard.
  • Steed and Peel find another dead person (in a bear outfit).
  • Peel fights Bailey in a several minute scene on several suspended ropes with him threatening her with a knife and Peel responding by repeatedly kicking him. The rope he's on eventually snaps and he swings and crashes into a wall, curses (the one "f" word), and falls presumably to his death.
  • Steed and Wynter fight on a bridge just feet above some raging water. Steed pulls a long knife from his umbrella and Wynter throws several dart-like objects at Steed that impale his hat.
  • Lighting strikes a clock tower (Big Ben?) causing it to explode. Later, a tornado/waterspout rips through a bridge.
  • A man is impaled with a long pole and then struck by lighting that carries him up and away from the scene.
  • A structure begins to self-destruct and we then see an entire island blowing up and/or on fire.

  • Reviewed August 14, 1998

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