Moving Pictures
Feb 01, 2024, 06:27AM

Argylle's Gaudy Affair

Apple bought Argylle for $200 million, money better spent anywhere else.

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The new action movie Argylle employs a novel-within-the-movie structure in which heroine Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) authors a popular series of spy novels, featuring Argylle (Henry Cavill), his sidekick (John Cena), and a sexy villain (pop star Dua Lipa).

The action soon shifts away from the framing device and into the real world, but before long I realized that I’d much rather watch a straightforward spy thriller with Cavill, Cena and Lipa, then what the movie actually was. And that’s only the start of the problems.

The latest from director Matthew Vaughn, best known for the Kingsman and Kick Ass movies, is a mess, with too much going on, tonal shifts, and a convoluted plot that’s nothing but twist after twist after twist.

Those plots can be a lot of fun, especially in a movie like the recent Jason Statham vehicle The Beekeeper, which took its machinations in ludicrous directions, but also knew what it was doing. But in Argylle, it gets to the point where nothing that happens has any weight or meaning. Powered by multiple MacGuffins, it’s built around a spy vs. spy plot that I didn’t care about.

The action scenes are mediocre and shaky-cam dependent, with the exception of a couple of inventive ones near the end. The Beekeeper may have been ridiculously-plotted, but the fight scenes were outstanding.

The early part of the story seems lifted from 2022’s enjoyable but forgettable Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum action comedy The Lost City, where Bullock also played a novelist confronted with a real-life scenario similar to her work. Howard plays a lonely writer who has written a successful series of spy novels, featuring an agent named Argyle (played by Cavill in cutaways).

Howard soon meets Aidan (Sam Rockwell), a real-life spy, and is pulled into international spy intrigue, which involves buried secrets from the past, her mother (Catherine O’Hara) and a villainous spymaster (Bryan Cranston.) Throughout, she’s assisted by her cat, which plays into the action in surprising ways, although I wasn’t particularly charmed by the cat.

The film has a cast of enjoyable performers, but a few of the actors who pop up in the marketing are either barely in the film (Richard E. Grant, Ariana DeBose, Cena, and Lipa) or not well-used (Samuel L. Jackson, in a rare listless performance). Comedian Rob Delaney makes a funny first act cameo, although it’s almost identical to what he did in last summer’s Mission: Impossible movie.

As for Howard, she’s miscast, and if the recent Jurassic Park series created the notion that she’s a movie star, I think that wasn’t correct. Rockwell’s better, playing a spy for the first time since Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, more than 20 years ago, while Cranston takes his performance way more seriously than most of the other actors.

The plot holes, meanwhile, are legion. Characters keep changing locations and continents without explanation. And it’s not advisable for women to sport cleavage-revealing outfits while on spy missions on the “Arabian Peninsula.”

Argylle was reportedly purchased by Apple for $200 million, which is huge for something not based on existing IP and with its biggest star, Jackson, in a fifth-banana role. That type of price tag better bring something special, and Argylle doesn’t.


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