Argylle (2024)

by - February 2nd, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Exhausting Argylle Doesn’t Land on its Feet

Argylle is exhausting. There is plenty of terrific stuff, including a charmingly bubbly performance by star Bryce Dallas Howard that’s reminiscent —or maybe a crafty amalgamation — of what Kathleen Turner brought to the screen in 1984’s Romancing the Stone or Deborah Kerr achieved in 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines. There’s also an unsurprising and effortlessly amiable turn from Sam Rockwell. If someone made an adult-oriented, 90-minute rom-com with the pair, I’d be first in line to give it a look.

Argylle (2024) | PHOTO: Apple Studios

But at nearly 140 minutes, this action-mystery-thriller-comedy hybrid doesn’t know when to quit. The film showcases all of director Matthew Vaughn’s best and worst tendencies, with a truly great scene immediately followed by two or three more that frequently ran the gamut from unnecessarily pointless to adolescently puerile to outright unredeemable. I was offended and enthralled in almost equal measure, and if not for the fact that the final 30 minutes left me cold, I’d almost recommend watching this catastrophically outlandish adventure, if only because the experience is so bewilderingly — and at times agonizingly — unique.

Like some sort of adolescent remix of ideas covered by any number of authors (but most notably James Thurber, Philip K. Dick, Richard Condon, and Robert Ludlum), screenwriter Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman, Pan) delivers a convoluted story involving a popular writer of espionage fiction and perky cat-lover Elly Conway (Howard) who suddenly finds herself living out one of her own adventures. She’s delivered four books revolving around an unstoppable secret agent named “Argylle,” and all of them have been massive hits.

Problems arise when Elly is on the threshold of delivering her eagerly anticipated fifth entry in the series. But before she can finish the final chapters, a bevy of actual spies show up on a train, trying to kidnap her. She’s saved by Aidan Wilde (Rockwell), and in between fists, bullets, some shattered glass, and even a bona fide explosion, he explains to Elly why her life is inexplicably in danger: her Agent Argylle stories really happened.

Vaughn leans into the same sort of visual aesthetic he utilized for his Kingsman trilogy, only this time he blurs fantasy and reality several steps past that. The reason is that Elly has trouble differentiating between the dream world of her fictional characters (portrayed by the likes of John Cena, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose. Richard E. Grant, and Henry Cavill as Agent Argylle himself) and the suddenly chaotic real ones led by Rockwell, Bryan Cranston (as the power-mad Director Ritter, head of a rogue intelligence agency), Samuel L. Jackson (as the retired former head of the CIA), and a sublime Catherine O’Hara (as Ruth, Elly’s cheerfully domineering mother).

It’s a solid idea, and Vaughn does get some decent mileage out of playing with it. The first large-scale action sequence has Rockwell and Cavill continually switching places, as every time Elly blinks, she imagines her suave, classically attractive fictional hero throwing the punches the foul-mouthed, comically unkempt Aidan is actually trading with a never-ending cadre of lethal adversaries. A few visual glitches notwithstanding, the entire set piece is marvelously shot by cinematographer George Richmond (Free Guy) and edited by the team of Tom Harrison-Read (Tomb Raider) and Lee Smith (Dunkirk), and the film’s talented stunt team is deserving of applause.

But Vaughn doesn’t know when to quit. His cartoonish presentations and rapid cuts between Elly and Aidan on the run, Agent Argylle’s imaginary domain, Director Ritter’s secret lair (which is more reminiscent of Austin Powers than James Bond), and a tranquil, picturesque French winery gave me whiplash. The noticeably CG-heavy sets and locations are garish, like something out of a PlayStation or Xbox video game (and not a recent one). There is a repetitiveness to the action that’s sadly obnoxious. And don’t get me started on the running gags involving Elly’s adorable cat Alphie, who spends most of the narrative being carted around in a designer, pet-friendly backpack.

Then there are the “twists” and “turns.” Without giving any hints, Vaughn and Fuchs take far too long to finally spill beans about their biggest mystery, and by the time they do, I’d long since figured it out, so their revelation hit with a resounding thud. Worse, once the truth is revealed, this gives Vaughn license to play to his baser instincts, reveling in acts of cruelty and violence that feel like sensationalism for its own sake, a trait that also afflicted Kingsman: The Golden Circle and The King’s Man (and in my opinion made both borderline unwatchable).

Argylle (2024) | PHOTO: Apple Studios

There are a pair of insane sequences inside Director Ritter’s headquarters — one with multicolored gas bombs and another involving MacGyvered ice skates and a floor covered in crude oil — that come tantalizingly close to being as fun as they are obviously meant to be. But much like everything else in this picture, Vaughn lets them run on far too long. Each goes from being goofily amusing to annoyingly tiresome, and that’s too bad.

If only because Howard is just so gosh-darn wonderful as the film’s plucky protagonist, I really do want to cut Argylle some slack. But so much of it is far too bludgeoning. By the time the climax rolls around, there’s so little differentiation between Elly’s imaginative literary domain and the supposedly “real” life-or-death one that my emotional investment in anyone’s survival — including hers — was practically nil. Not the best way to spend two-plus hours of my evening.

Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)

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