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Critical outlook bleak for 'Avengers'

Web posted on: Monday, August 17, 1998 2:26:33 PM

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman have brought "The Avengers" back to the screen to the critical disdain of many; although U.S. critics got no advance screening for the movie, which opened to audiences on Friday, British critics who have seen the movie have not been kind in their reviews.

Nonetheless, fans of the 1960s TV show, which starred Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Diana Rigg as the definitive Emma Peel, will see many familiar elements in the new movie -- not the least of which is the movie's fashion savvy. Savile Row splendor, retro-chic legwear and a parade of silk Chinese brocades play as much a role in setting the movie's tone as Fiennes and Thurman play as the movie's leads.

And carrying off the catsuit look was just one of Uma's challenges. Another was living up to the expectations of her friends, all giddy about her newest role.

"You hear them talk about Emma Peel, and their eyes roll back in their head, and they're like, 'Oh, when I was 15 and I first saw 'The Avengers,'' and they go off into some private la-la land that you're not interested in following them to," she recalls. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to see when I see this?'"

What the stars both saw in the roles they've revived from the hit 1960s series was a pair of nonchalant, ultra-hip crimefighters whose cunning and cool defied action stereotypes.

Original gives thumbs-up

Macnee, the original John Steed, has a cameo in the film as the voice of a character named Invisible Jones. While some critics have lambasted the movie, he has been a staunch supporter, telling the New York Daily News, "I very much approve of the movie."

He was especially pleased that Fiennes' version of Steed does not carry a gun, just like Macnee's Steed. "In 1960 when I refused to, because I'd just been in the Second World War and seen most of my friends blown to bits, it was important," Macnee said. "All these years later, it's tremendously important again."

Asked by CNN whether he gave Fiennes any suggestions on how to play the role, however, he said, "That's the last thing that I would do. I wouldn't be that patronizing."

For his part, Fiennes implied that he wouldn't have minded some guidance. "I just thought, 'Well, I've absorbed so much of his style and his way, and now I've just got to fend for myself.'"

At least he had his most useful accessory at his beck and call. "The umbrella can be a weapon," Thurman observes. "It's kind of an extension of Steed. I won't go into the Freudian implications of that one."

Weathering the weather

Weapon or not, in this film version of "The Avengers" Steed's umbrella could have been used for the weather. Sean Connery is Sir August de Wynter, a rich madman who controls the weather. The duo has been dispatched to, er, "rain" him in. Shooting was strenuous but, Thurman says, "it was fun."

"I've never made a movie like it, and it was stuff I couldn't have done," she says. "I've never been asked to hang from wires."

There is concern about whether such stunts, and the movie's reported $60 million budget, were worth it, since Warner Bros. has refused to screen the film to critics and promotional audiences, which is generally considered a bad sign. But the filmmakers are counting on nostalgia buffs and audiences who relish a little wit and romantic tension to see the film through at the box office.

Correspondent Michael Okwu and Reuters contributed to this report.

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