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REVIEW — “Argylle”

What starts out as a potentially fun and feisty spy thriller, Argylle soon snowballs into a catastrophic hairball.

Directed and produced by Matthew Vaughn from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs, the twisty spy thriller offers fewer surprises than the trailer suggests, but does feature funny dialogue, a stacked cast of characters, and dynamic fight scenes.

(from left) Wyatt (John Cena) and Argylle (Henry Cavill) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Universal Pictures

A similar premise to 2022’s The Lost City, itself an homage to 1984’s Romancing the Stone, Argylle follows author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) and secret agent Aidan (Sam Rockwell) while on the run from a shadowy spy syndicate called the Division that is hunting a Silver Bullet flash drive MacGuffin that carries all the bad guys’ evil information. The pair bounce from America to London to France to unlock the hidden truth behind Elly’s fifth Argylle spy novel which is somehow predicting real life espionage events with surprising accuracy.

Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Alfie the Cat (Chip) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films and MARV

While Cavill’s fictional “Agent Argylle” gets top billing, he only gets to flex his muscles when he appears to Elly as a live action hallucination. And the rest of the novel-within-a-movie’s characters, played by John Cena, Dua Lipa, and Ariana DeBose, are mostly left on the sidelines outside of their introductory scene.

(from left) Argylle (Henry Cavill), Lagrange (Dua Lipa) and Wyatt (John Cena) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films and MARV

A convoluted cat-astrophe at times, Argylle is a stellar showcase for the talented Howard, who gets to play an introverted, cat-loving, homebody author as well as a deadly and duplicitous spy. However, Rockwell steals the show as a laid back, but quick-witted (and footed) secret agent.

(from left) Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Aidan (Sam Rockwell) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films and MARV

Cranston does solid work as the villainous, trigger-happy head of the Division who has a hot temper but a fatherly blind spot for Howard’s character. As Alfred, a former CIA head, Jackson channels his well-worn Nick Fury mentor role, but with a softer touch. Catherine O’Hara is also in pocket as Elly’s fiery mom with a delightful mean streak.

Catherine O’Hara as Ruth in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films and MARV

In each of his films, Vaughn includes a scene of graphic choreographed gunplay set to popular music (see Kingsman and Kick-Ass). With a PG-13 rating, Argylle’s signature Vaughn scene is more cartoonishly violent, but action-packed, nonetheless. However, the song selection was less than compelling for such a joyous scene of over-the-top lunacy.

Bryan Cranston as Ritter in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films and MARV

In fact, with the exception of Barry White’s opening track, most of the needle drops in Argylle are perplexing. Surprisingly, the film heavily features The Beatles’ recently released final song “Now and Then.” The song plays several times throughout the film (I counted four), and its melodic motif is even used as a love theme for Argylle’s two leads. (I guess if you’re going to pay for a Beatles song, you might as well get your money’s worth.)

(from left) Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Alfred Solomon (Samuel L. Jackson) in Argylle, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Courtesy Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films; and MARV

In its marketing, Argylle teases a glitzy and glamorous mystery; however, the plot twists are largely predictable and often delivered with a wink by its silly cast of characters. Unfortunately, much of the film feels like a Looney Tunes cartoon; full of either obvious CGI or action clearly shot on a green-screened soundstage. It can be distracting, especially with all the double, triple, and quadruple crosses going around.

(from left) Chip and director Matthew Vaughn on the set of Argylle. Courtesy Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures; Apple Original Films; and MARV

For a movie that features a feline at the core of its marketing, Argylle is appropriately spastic and shiny—the kind of object that will lose your attention just as fast as it attracts it. And once the cat is let out of the bag, audiences will quickly become bored by the film’s flashy polish on a tired premise. 2.5/5

Rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 19 minutes, Argylle opens in theaters on February 2, 2024 before being released worldwide on Apple TV+.

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