Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jason Fuchs
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard (Elly Conway), Sam Rockwell (Aidan), Bryan Cranston (Ritter), Catherine O’Hara (Ruth Conway), Henry Cavill (Argylle), Louis Partridge (Young Argylle), Sofia Boutella (Saba Al-Badr), Dua Lipa (LaGrange), Ariana DeBose (Keira), John Cena (Wyatt), Samuel L. Jackson (Alfie)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2024
Country: U.K. / U.S.

As a cartoonish riff on meta-fiction and absurdist action hijinks, Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle isn’t half-bad. It begins in spectacularly lousy fashion, though, with a calculated action sequence involving the titular British super-spy (Henry Cavill) and his partner and tech operator, Wyatt (John Cena), trying to get a Macguffin of some kind from a sultry counter-agent in gold lamé (Sofia Boutella) on a Greek island. The whole thing is calculated to feel contrived, mixing and matching tired James Bond cliches with over-the-top digital action that doesn’t even make sense within the world of 1’s and 0’s.

But, then it is revealed that Argylle doesn’t really exist, but is actually the fictional creation of mega-best-selling author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose series of super-agent books currently numbers four and she is well on her way to finishing number five. But, something funny happens on the way to the final chapter, as the reclusive, introverted Elly gets shanghaied on a train trip to visit her mother (Catherine O’Hara) by a real-life spy (or so he says) named Aidan (Sam Rockwell), who informs her that her books bear a striking resemblance to real-life spy shenanigans, especially a super-secret organization headed by a man named Ritter (Bryan Cranston) who really, really wants her dead. So, in Romancing the Stone fashion, Elly finds herself drawn into a world of spy action that her books seem to have predicted (at a meet-the-author event, a fan asks if she is an actual spy like John Le Carré or Frederick Forsyth).

Bryce Dallas Howard, taking a break from the Jurassic World franchise, plays the incredulous straight woman with good spirit, and she is aided and abetted by the consistently amusing image of her carrying around her beloved cat, Alfie, in a plaid backpack with a bubble window that ensures the wide-eyed feline face plays for maximum comic effect. Elly’s created world and the real world constantly collide, as we see the absurdly square-coifed Argylle in action from time to time, reminding us that there is some kind of deeper link between what Elly types on her laptop and what actually unfolds in the clandestine spy world. There are questions within questions, and everything is eventually given some kind of answer, with the only one really left wanting is how John Cena could be wasted in such a minor role.

Vaughn has in recent years dedicated almost all of his time to the ever-expanding Kingsman action movie series. Outside of his directorial debut, the gritty crime drama Layer Cake (2004), which starred a pre-007 Daniel Craig, I have never really taken to his hyperkinetic style, which is somehow overly slick and hammy at the same time. It worked well enough on the superhero parody Kick-Ass (2010), if only because the ridiculousness of the material matched Vaughn’s penchant for overkill. He dials things back a bit here, and some of the best moments are the screwball back-and-forth dialogue between Elly and Aidan, the latter of whom never seems entirely trustworthy (and at one point appears to be a secret enemy). Screenwriter Jason Fuchs (I Still See You) certainly knows his way around genre conventions and he has fun with expected twists and turns and revelations (including the timely appearance of Samuel L. Jackson), although it ultimately feels so airy and goofy that it loses it steam by the end.

Copyright © 2024 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

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