'Argylle' review: Matthew Vaughn helms one ludicrously stupid spy thriller
Courtesy of Universal/Apple
If you took an edible right before the opening studio logos of “Argylle,” the effects would hit probably an hour into the movie, which, by that point, has lost all sense of direction, rhythm, and see’s director Matthew Vaughn throw the kitchen sink at the screen in the hopes that something, anything might stick in this convoluted mess of a film. Call it the poor man’s “Mission: Impossible” or call it the biggest studio swindle in recent memory as Vaughn, alongside screenwriter Jason Fuchs, have managed to convince the brass at Apple Original Films to fork over somewhere in the realm of $200 million dollars on a franchise non-starter. Not even the presence of a furry CGI feline nor the gorgeous Dua Lipa can soothe over the rough patches of a film that begins with promise (who doesn’t love a action-comedic Sam Rockwell?!) before relinquishing any promise of a coherent story in lieu of sixteen different endings, several double and triple crossings, and, oh, one hundred silly twists.
The movie begins with an homage to the world of spy thrillers where a majestic and brooding Henry Cavill makes his presence known as Agent Argyle, who is on the hunt for a mistress (Lipa - in what’s the basic equivalent of an extended cameo). An interception that goes from casual to wild goose chase through the streets of Greece on a dime. Or the CGI remnants of what looks like Greece. Turns out, this is all a dramatic recollection for a series of popular spy novels written by Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has now written five best sellers in the sleepy Colorado mountainside and is working on a sixth installment.
The main plot revolves around these popular books and how, unbeknownst to Elly, the novels are mirroring real life events within the United States government and the C.I.A. Thus making her a popular commodity among a shady organization called “The Division,” (lead by a grimacing Bryan Cranston) who believe she harbors the whereabouts of a MacGuffin that could expose the villainous group to the world. Sent in to protect Elly is a charismatic spy named Aidan (Rockwell - holding his own in a script that never locks down a clear focus) who has an objective of keeping her safe while also trying to uncover the identity of the real Agent Argylle.
The surprise probably won’t shock you though I admire the audacity Fuchs displays at completely knocking off every spy caper known to mankind. The first 45 minutes of “Argylle” are kind’ve interesting and the allure of where the action is headed would be enough to keep anyone interested in the possible outcome. But as the lines between reality and fiction begin to merge towards the second act, and the movie dumps piles of additional exposition, plus numerous red herrings , and, I can’t stress this enough, outlandish plot developments, “Argylle” quickly overstays its welcome. Again, it’s like someone popped a gummy, waited for the effects to kick in, and then proceeded to throw every single crazy idea onto the page. And then, by a miracle from Jesus Christ himself, those wild swings somehow made it into the final cut. The movie runs a not-so-breezy two hours and twenty minutes in case you were wondering, complete with an obnoxious post-credit scene.
Those hoping Vaughn would replicate the crazy antics unspooled in his far superior “Kingsman” films will be disappointed. Mainly because “Argylle” tones down the violence for a soft PG13, thus ditching the ultra stylistic choices that made him a household name. His cast doesn’t fare much better and the supporting work of Ariana DeBose, Catherine O’Hara. And Samuel L. Jackson, in addition to the leads, never go anywhere near the level of pulpy camp Vaughn assumes he’s manifested on screen. You feel for Howard and Rockwell who can’t create any palpable chemistry between them and one jarring moment set to a Leona Lewis cover of Snow Patrol’s “Run” cements that feat. Seriously, what were the filmmakers thinking?!
Had “Argylle” stuck to the James Bond-esq maneuvers it was teasing during the opening moments rather than swerving into a ludicrous action romp that never gives viewers a clear understanding of the stakes, perhaps the prospect of a second move teased in the closing credits would yield some excitement. But as it stands, Vaughn should go back to bloody R-rated brawls and pretend this movie never existed.
ARGYLLE is now playing in theaters.