If you're planning to kick some butt, it pays to be well-dressed. We're not talking well-dressed in the sense of neatly pressed jeans and a clean T-shirt. We're talking impeccably tailored Savile Row suits that might cause an opponent to underestimate your ferocity.
The secret agents in the new action comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service base their small, private army (members are named for Knights of the Round Table) at an upscale British clothing store named Kingsman.
The agents of Kingsman do not work for any government; they're privately funded James Bonds who fight for truth, justice and well ... expensive clothes.
This entirely crazy notion fuels a movie from director Matthew Vaughn, who became known to most moviegoers in 2010 for another equally bold action comedy, Kick-Ass.
Kingsman may not be an unalloyed triumph, but its high points soar and its finale -- or should I say many finales -- create a woozy intra-movie competition in which each additional set piece tries to top its predecessor.
That's no easy task for a movie in which the heads (as in craniums) of a group of elites already have exploded, creating gorgeous smears of color that travel upward with silky grace. All of this to the accompaniment of Edgar Elgar's stirringly patriotic Land of Hope and Glory.
Clearly, Kingsman is not a movie for all tastes; it requires a tolerance for mordant humor that brushes up against (but doesn't fully embrace) political satire.
Vaughn has taken on a difficult task: He's out to spoof spy movies without entirely abandoning their pleasures.
That means the movie can be as rash as it is brash.
Consider: At one point, an agent named Galahad (Colin Firth) goes berserk in a fundamentalist Christian church in the U.S., wiping out the entire congregation. It's not possible to say with any certainty whether Vaughn is straining to push the envelope or engaging in a perverse exercise in counter-cultural wish fulfillment.
Behind all Vaughn's bold excess, you'll find a plot of sorts. Firth plays an agent who recruits a street tough (Taron Egerton) for Kingsman. The movie follows Egerton's character as he trains to become a Kingsman, competing with other hopefuls for the lone open spot.
Of course, there's a villain. Samuel L. Jackson plays Valentine, a genius who wears Yankee baseball caps, lisps (huh?) and has contrived a brutal population reduction scheme that he believes will save the planet.
Valentine's aide (Sofia Boutella) has two, spring-loaded prosthetic legs that look like those that carried Oscar Pistorious to fame in the Olympics. These artificial limbs are also equipped with blades that can cut a man in half as neatly as you please.
Michael Caine adds a bit of gravitas as Arthur, the seasoned veteran who runs the Kingsman operation.
Now, when someone attempts a movie such as Kingsman, chances are that some of its violence will cross lines that shouldn't be crossed. In this area, you'll have plenty of eligible candidates.
Recognize, though, that Vaughn has tried to make a movie that might be called a "violent romp." When it's working -- which I'd say is more than half the time -- Kingsman is a kick.