A Lengthy And Overstuffed Caper From Matthew Vaughn

At its best, “Argylle” calls to mind swashbuckling romances like “Romancing The Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile,” teaming Howard’s Elly with real-life spy Aidan, played by a reliably charismatic Sam Rockwell. After a chance meeting on a train, he is presented as both a quirky and “realistic” counterpoint to Elly’s fanciful hero, as well as her entry point into the dangerous world she has heretofore only written about. There’s a big, messy plot about how her needing to complete her new book is connected to the rogue spy syndicate headed by Bryan Cranston’s nefarious Ritter.

The movie is its most engaging when it focuses on the chemistry between Howard and Rockwell, mining comedy from her fish-out-of-water antics and his unpredictable presence. When it’s firing on all cylinders as an off-kilter romcom, Matthew Vaughn seems to be making good on his promise that “Argylle” would be similar to the “Kingsman” films in genre only. But the more narrative detritus that gets piled on and the more he cavalierly revisits the style and tone of those pictures, it becomes harder to see this as anything other than a slight retread gussied up in tricks to pretend it’s something it’s not.

That level of subterfuge may be fine for a government operative going undercover in the pursuit of national security, but it’s less fun to watch a movie masquerading as a better movie that doesn’t really exist.¬†There’s entertaining work from Catherine O’Hara as Elly’s mother, an eclectic cadre of soulful needle drops, and some truly humorous time spent with Cavill and John Cena from inside the fictional exploits of Elly’s books. It’s just that the movie’s few strengths are all elaborate feints designed to keep the audience guessing about the next big reveal or twist, leaving little to actually hold onto or care about.¬†

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