Meryl rocks, ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ rolls

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Meryl Streep stars as a rocker in “Ricki and the Flash.” Photo courtesy yahoo.com

Playing at Island theaters this weekend are two Hollywood films, “Ricki and the Flash,” with Meryl Streep as an aging rock ’n’ roll musician, and a revival of the 1960’s TV franchise “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Although “Ricki and the Flash” milks a tired, out-of-fashion genre, as a family comedy/drama, its all-star cast makes it a highly watchable, satisfying film. Meryl Streep stars as the rocker Ricki, with her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer playing Julie, her onscreen daughter. Top-drawer director Jonathan Demme, who has filmed such classics as “Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia,” and the Talking Heads doc “Stop Making Sense,” teams with screenwriter Diablo Cody of “Juno” fame. Ricki, a.k.a. Linda Brummell, long ago dumped her husband Pete, played by Kevin Kline, and her three children, including Julie. Pete summons his ex-wife back from L.A. to Indiana when Julie, abandoned for another woman by her husband, attempts suicide.

Complete with her own singing and guitar playing, Ms. Streep adopts full cover-band regalia. The film’s rock music, ranging from Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” to Lady Gaga and Pink tunes, is a hoot that Mr. Demme effectively exploits. Ricki, dressed in boots and leather jacket with funky long braids on one side, clearly doesn’t fit in with the staid Midwesterners of her former life. Her son Josh (Sebastian Stan) is newly engaged, but has not invited his mother to the wedding. Her other son Adam (Nick Westrate) is gay.

One of the plot twists that keeps “Ricki and the Flash” from turning too pedestrian is that Ricki is unexpectedly a little Republican, a little homophobic, and a little disinclined to commit to her besotted boyfriend Greg, played by Eighties pop icon Rick Springfield. Ricki works as a cashier at a local supermarket and is about to declare bankruptcy. One of the best scenes in the movie happens between Ricki and Maureen, Pete’s African-American second wife (Audra McDonald), when they go head-to-head over Ricki’s abandonment of her family. The Ricki-smitten Greg utters probably the best line in the movie, “It’s not our kids’ job to love us. It’s our job to love them.” Thanks to skilled directing and acting, “Ricki and the Flash” plays as an authentic investigation of a has-been musician and her broken family, and it’s disappointing that the public probably prefers the dazzle of successful rockers and more seriously dysfunctional families.

Back to the Sixties with ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

Running from 1964 to 1968, the original TV show that director Guy Richie’s new movie version is based on comes across a shallow and entertaining trip back to the era when the Cold War was raging, and relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were tense. That doesn’t prevent American spy Napoleon Solo (the name was coined by James Bond author Ian Fleming), with the impossibly handsome Henry Cavill replacing Robert Vaughn, and equally gorgeous Armie Hammer replacing David McCallum as Soviet agent Illya Kuryakin, from contentiously joining forces. One of the unexpected and pleasing aspects of the female leads is that Alicia Vikander as Gaby and Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria, beauteous as they may be, counter the Sixties stereotype of impossibly buxom women.

While the script is the weakest component of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” it’s more than made up for in entertainment value by spectacular international settings, great chase scenes, and stunning Sixties costumes and makeup. The film’s key plot point revolves around a stolen nuclear device that Solo and Kuryakin are ordered to retrieve by British spymaster Waverly. It’s a role once played by the inimitable Leo G. Carroll, and taken over in the movie by Hugh Grant. It’s no surprise that the missing nuclear device turns up, and sequels will probably follow.

“Ricki and the Flash” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” play across Island theaters this week. Check page 23 for movie listings, or online at mvtimes.com/a-e/movies/.