Thursday, February 1, 2024

'Argylle': a spoofy but hollow spy game


   The screen bursts with activity in the unashamedly silly Argylle, but too little of it matters.
   Known for his work on the Kingsman franchise, director Matthew Vaughn lifts tongue into cheek for a multi-layered espionage spoof that casts Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway, a successful spy novelist who gets caught up in the real thing. 
   The title stems from one of Conway's characters, a  debonaire agent known as Argylle (Henry Cavill) who squares off against an evil consortium known as The Division.
  Conway's pet cat Alfie accompanies her everywhere, peering out from a plastic window in her backpack. And, yes, the cat -- or some CGI version of it -- eventually figures in the story.
   Vaughn jams the movie with names and faces, offering cameos from Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBoseJohn Cena, and Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson spends much of his screen time watching an NBA game. Aside from a punchy  opening scene, the others seem inconsequential.
    Vaughn includes extended work from Sam Rockwell, as Aidan, a real spy who meets Elly and, in the film's early stages, emerges as her protector. 
     Bryan Cranston turns up as the head of The Division and Catherine O'Hara plays Elly's Mom. 
     Most of the characters have dual identities, a ploy that mostly serves to muddy the already murky waters. Know, though, that Elly sometimes watches real-world characters morph into her fictional creations, blurring lines in a way that's not particularly confusing but becomes repetitive.
      Jason Fuchs's screenplay includes a few clever touches and a bit of amusement. Vaughn goes for broke when he turns a major fight sequence into a dance number shrouded in clouds of red smoke. In another fight, he makes clever use of an oil slick.
       And, yes, there's a big plot twist. And, no, it probably won't knock you out of your seat.
       Neither does Argylle, which feels like an evocation of similar movies -- some directed by Vaughn.  Little more than a helping of CGI-fueled cinematic play, Argylle  overstays its welcome at a length of two hours and 19 minutes.
       But play isn't enough to save the day -- or a movie that doesn't seem to have much else on its mind.


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