If energy equaled greatness, ARGYLLE would be a wonderful film. But alas, all the vigor that’s been poured into this new spy comedy, from its manic action to twisting plot turns to vampy acting, cannot save what is essentially an unwieldy mess. There’s too much plot, too many endings, and too much hammy acting throughout. Directed by Matthew Vaughn of KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE fame, the movie huffs and puffs trying to capture that franchise’s fun flavor, but this effort is mostly unsavory.
Bryce Dallas Howard stars and she gives it her all, but her strain shows. (The role required a genuinely gifted comic actress, but I’m not sure a Reese Witherspoon or Rose Byrne could’ve saved this effort.) Howard plays spy novelist Elly Conway, a lonely cat lady who retreats from her celebrity, preferring to be a homebody. Elly’s literary success – five bestsellers in five years – seems to mostly come from accurately capturing the spy world. At least that’s what her fans tell her, and the script tells us, but little of what is acted out from her prose resembles anything even halfway realistic.
That’s the first big mistake the film makes as Elly reads an excerpt from her latest Argylle spy novel at a bookstore and Vaughn visualizes the prose in a way that makes the whole adventure seem ludicrous, almost like KINGSMEN has been dialed up a notch. (At that’s really saying something.) In the showy set-piece, Elly’s franchise character is presented as an urbane spy in the James Bond mode. He’s played by a game Henry Cavill who breezes into a nightclub, flirts with the villainess Lagrange (Dua Lipa), and then dispatches a dozen of her henchmen in seconds as his cover is blown. An over-the-top chase ensues until Argylle’s pumped-up spy bro (Jon Cena, in a glorified cameo) nabs her as she tries to escape on a motorcycle.
Not long after, Elly decides to take a trip to visit her mom (Catherine O’Hara) via the train, with her BFF feline Alfie along for the ride, when she encounters a CIA operative named Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell). He tells Elly that she’s in danger because of her prose and soon enough, enemy agents on board are trying to nab her. This signals the second exhausting fight sequence, again with all of the enemies being disposed of like mere pawns on a chess board. Elly, Alfie, and Wilde escape, and from there the film becomes one exceedingly long chase and an even longer trek through all kinds of secret spies, numerous identities, double-crosses, and over-the-top stunts that all start to step on each other in narrative overkill.
Terrific talents like O’Hara, Bryan Cranston, Ariana DeBose, and Samuel L. Jackson try hard to pump life into a script painfully lacking in any genuinely hilarious dialogue or brimming with any truly inspired action ideas, but only Rockwell survives most scenes unscathed. He’s droll and dry, which helps acquit him from most of it. But the rest of the cast seemed as if they were directed to perform to an 11. Big can be funny, as the likes of Jackie Gleason and Nicholas Cage have proven, but director Vaughn and writer Jason Fuchs equal their volume and zeal while missing on the wit and charm.
Oh, and as much as they’re selling the cat in the promos for this film, I couldn’t be certain that the adorable Alfie was even a real feline in most of the shots. There’s an awful lot of CGI cramming every frame and it lends everything a fakeness that extends to all the moves and machinations they put the cat through too. While it may seem funny to some to see a cat kicked and tossed about so, I found it as unsavory as all the other elements haphazardly kicking and tossing about here.