Argylle (United Kingdom/United States, 2024)February 02, 2024
Stylish, smartly edited, and bursting with energy, the trailer
for Argylle is fantastic. That’s about the only thing related to this
movie the superlative could be used to describe. The actual production is a
polar opposite: overlong, tedious, and bursting with idiot plot contrivances.
There are obvious story holes so big that a 747 flown by a chimpanzee could
make it through. All the pleasure hinted at by the trailer is illusory.
The movie’s two-tier structure is less convoluted than it initially
seems (or than the trailer makes it appear to be). Essentially, there’s a “real
world” setup, focusing on best-selling author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas
Howard), her cat, and her fussy mother, Ruth (Catherine O’Hara). Then there are
enactments of sections of Elly’s books (or phantasms of her imagination) featuring
her hero, the suave super-agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) with an outrageous flat-top
haircut, and his dour sidekick, Wyatt (John Cena).
Elly’s life takes a turn for the stranger when, while riding
a train, she meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a fan who claims to be a spy. Moments
later, she’s dodging knives and bullets in a fight for her life – all while
carrying her feline, Alfie, in her backpack. Soon, she and Aidan are jetting across
the Atlantic to keep one step ahead of the shady agents from a shadowy
organization run by Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston), who think she has insider
knowledge because her books seem to predict the future.
Argylle gets worse the longer it’s on screen. It
opens with a degree of promise (vaguely reminiscent of the underrated 2006
rom-com, Stranger than Fiction, in which a character and his author
interact) but quickly abandons the quirkier aspects of the narrative to proceed
in a more straightforward fashion. There are some early warning signs: the
action is pedestrian, there’s a lack of energy, and the tone is inconsistent.
By the 90-minute mark, Argylle’s tongue has become dislodged from its
cheek as it devolves into a Jason Bourne/Mission: Impossible rip-off (those
are more applicable comps than Bond) with a lot of pointless action and
lackluster stunts. But none of this adequately prepares the viewer for the
mind-numbing final act wherein those previously mentioned gaping plot holes
appear (one related to a convoluted identity issue and one involving the
inexplicable decision not to kill two characters) as the plot goes into a corkscrew
nosedive from which it never recovers. Not even a multi-hued smoke massacre set
to a pop tune can save this movie from a complete implosion.
There’s less Henry Cavill than one might expect (or hope
for). He makes occasional appearances in recreations of scenes from Elly’s
books and occasionally “appears” to her during fight scenes, when he and
Rockwell are spliced together. As the lead, Bryce Dallas Howard is fine in the
first half and miscast during the second. Despite getting a lot of screen time
in the trailer, Dua Lipa has virtually none in the movie (pretty much all of
her material is used in the trailer), qualifying her appearance as a cameo.
Ditto for Richard E. Grant and Ariana DeBose. John Cena and Samuel L. Jackson get
more on-screen time but have little to do beyond collecting paychecks. As for
Bryan Cranston as the villain – his frothing at the mouth seems oddly
half-hearted. He’s not necessarily more grounded than a generic Bond megalomaniac
but isn’t any more interesting. And I’m still not entirely sure what his
Director Matthew Vaughn has an uneven resume but, until he
became mired in the Kingsman universe (the first film was good; the
other two, not so much), he was a solid bet for a good time. His early films – Layer Cake, Kick-Ass, and Kingsman: The Secret Service – were enjoyable romps. Argylle represents his first out-and-out failure. Indications are that Vaughn
isn’t done with the Kingsman movies – a post-credits scene offers a
tangible connection between Argylle
and that series.
Vaughn is apparently going for something that’s one part cartoonish action and one part tongue-in-cheek parody. It misfires on all cylinders. Even if one takes nothing seriously (which is really the only way to approach Argylle), the action fails to excite and the comedy is flaccid. I didn’t laugh once and the movie’s stylized and satirical tone defused any connection I might have felt for the characters. Perhaps if the proceedings hadn’t dragged on well past the two-hour mark, it wouldn’t have seemed like such a chore to sit through. The film’s failure stands as a stark reminder that, no matter how seductive a trailer might be, February releases should always be approached with caution. This is the month when Hollywood jettisons its refuse and this particular sampling belongs buried deep in a landfill.
Argylle (United Kingdom/United States, 2024)
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Catherine O’Hara, Bryan Cranston, Henry Cavill, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cena
Screenplay: Jason Fuchs
Cinematography: George Richmond
Music: Lorne Balfe
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
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