Argylle (2024)

Argylle Review


The action movie “Argylle,” a clunker from director Matthew Vaughn, opens with a kind of joke. Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) infiltrates a Greek-set club, where he finds blonde LaGrange (Dua Lipa) in a glittering gold dress. They do a seductive dance before she slips away under gunfire from a gang of baddies. He is helped to escape and gives chase down narrow streets against the backdrop of neon signs in windows that say things like “Eat Me” and “Love Kills” by his team: tech guru (Ariana DeBose) and sidekick (John Cena). In an alleyway, when Argylle finally catches up to her, he and LaGrange exchange banal dialogue. “You and I are not so different,” says LaGrange. “You’re a terrorist,” retorts Argylle. “It seems we serve the same master,” she says, or something like it; I was laughing too hard to type accurately at this point.

If these characters seem like cardboard cutouts from a dime-store spy novel especially Cavill’s garish high-top haircut it’s because they sort of are: They’re creations of author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who’s working on the fifth book in her bestselling Argylle series right now.

Jason Fuchs’ script sets up the spoof at an efficient pace: Blocked by writer’s block, Elly takes the train to visit her mother (Catherine O’Hara). On board, she meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell). The scruffy stranger isn’t dashing Argylle; he is instead what should be considered an actual spy someone who can blend into the background without being noticed by any living human eye or security camera.

We see Aidan through Elly’s eyes as they wander the train, and then in a neat bit of editing as Elly blinks, we see Cavill’s face superimposed on Rockwell’s head. It is this kind of dumb joke that would be funnier if it didn’t feel like the only thing carrying us through Act One.

Aidan is here to extract the anxious novelist; assassins sent by Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston), the head of a covert organization called the Division, think she knows where a flash drive with classified information is being kept. Why do they think she knows? Unknown to Elly, her novels are suspiciously accurate descriptions of real missions that sound exactly like something an undercover operative would say after four beers.

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The plotting works well enough for a while. As Elly and Aidan work to recover the drive, “Argylle” takes on an airy feeling as it parodies films like “National Treasure,” “The Lost City,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” all three Bourne movies and Vaughn’s own Kingsman series in rapid succession. But eventually, “Argylle” remembers that it was supposed to have been building toward a punchline. And so it flails around trying to become an actual spy movie and thus finally spoil its own fun.

By this point Jackson has been left behind and so have Richard E. Grant and DeBose, but whatever; they were given nothing to do anyway when suddenly there are 10 more characters introduced in about five minutes. The lighting goes flat; so does the dialogue; choppier editing takes over for everyone except Cena, who is still doing his best with lines like “I’m just a guy trying not to get shot at.” The film feels thinner than its bare-bones screenplay might indicate.

And then there are no less than three bombastic needle drops from recovered Beatles tracks: “Now and Then,” which sounds like the warm-up to a “Hey Jude” chorus that never comes.

I don’t want to call this a cheap move, since it probably cost a boatload of money to use John Lennon’s voice on something so dumb. But reviving his voice only to immediately sell the usage of his recently finished demo to a flabby action vehicle feels ghoulish.

But still, there are moments in “Argylle” that are fun. O’Hara does her best Marlene Dietrich in a “Witness for the Prosecution” kind of way. Cranston also adds funny beats to a really one-note character. The Alfie the cat scenes would be cute if the VFX around the cat weren’t so janky. It’s ironic, though, that in a movie started because Elly wrote a bad last chapter, Vaughn doesn’t know where or how to end it.

There are some convenient twists this review won’t give away, but suffice to say that the more Vaughn tries to explain things, the less fun they become (and switching between color photography and black-and-white inconsistently doesn’t help). For a while Rockwell is doing his most interesting character in years as a zany guy who flips out sometimes until the film requires him to become a romantic lead. Also somehow Howard’s performance loses force as we find out what happened to Elly.

They circle around each other and nowhere else at once never landing on how serious “Argylle” has decided it is after two acts of frivolity came before it. Everything leads into one big hallway action scene meant to be quirky and operatic but actually might just be the dreariest action scene ever put to film; Vaughn doesn’t understand how bodies move through space and instead turns up his usual desire to warp fight choreography into overstretched plastic stuff too far.

It’s too bad. “Argylle” could have been very smart about itself! But it seems like it gets tired of being a joke before it can give you one last laugh line and by then you can tell Vaughn is desperate not to make another gag connecting this with Kingsman so he gives his movie no name at all, making it only forgettable.

Watch Argylle For Free On Gomovies.

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