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Rockwell can’t save the expensive, misguided ‘Argylle’

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| February 10, 2024 1:00 AM

The off-kilter presence of Sam Rockwell (an Oscar-winner for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) can usually disrupt even the most stilted, barren material. In “Argylle,” the action-comedy from “Kingsman” director Matthew Vaughn, Rockwell gets lost (alongside several other A-listers) in a hokey and strained spy adventure that would be labeled as amateurish if not for its inexplicable $200 million budget.

Vaughn, with “X-Men: First Class,” “Kick-Ass” and the first “Kingsman” movie, once seemed like a filmmaker with a clever, subversive perspective on action-oriented genre fare. However, with his recent “Kingsman” installments, and now “Argylle,” Vaughn is emphasizing and repeating his worst impulses as a storyteller, prioritizing twists and absurdity over narrative functionality.

The premise of “Argylle” carries potential. The movie begins inside a cheesy spy novel written by cat-loving shut-in Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard, doing her best with an impossible character arc). In her story, Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill, with one of the worst haircuts ever committed to film) realizes his espionage agency is populated by double-crossing evildoers and goes on the hunt for a “Masterkey” of incriminating evidence. Turns out, much of Elly’s fictional books predict the future, and Lead Evildoer Bryan Cranston (actively bad in the role, surprisingly) attempts to capture Elly and probe her brain for real-world advantage.

Enter Aidan, a shaggy, irritated real spy played by Rockwell. He means to protect Elly from the bad guys and deliver Elly’s prescient knowledge to a former CIA director (Samuel L. Jackson). As the movie’s relentless marketing has teased, nothing is as it seems.

The first half of “Argylle” attempts to build to a “big twist.” Unfortunately, the structure of the story and the nature of the characters only lead to one logical conclusion. This review has provided less information than the commercials for “Argylle,” and yet you can probably already connect the dots.

The “twist” itself allows for the opportunity for entertaining storytelling, especially with the strong lead combination of Howard and Rockwell. Their banter, especially in the back half of the movie, provides the bulk of the levity. However, everything around them is just so … dumb. Dull, unnecessary plot obstacles and cringe-heavy dialogue constantly sabotage the talented cast.

Inexplicably, many of Vaughn’s choices here seem intentional. Why else would a $200 million movie feature several cartoonish action sequences populated by shoddy CGI and green-screened backdrops? One character, late in the film, engages in a lengthy fight scene on ice skates that, in one week of theatrical release, has aged worse than the 20-year-old “burly brawl” in “The Matrix Reloaded.” Yet, it gives off a “Haha, this looks bad, right?” vibe.

The action relentlessly leans into its own absurdity without tension, dramatic stakes or coherence of character behavior. As a PG-13 entry, the movie avoids the kind of bloodletting so prominent in the “Kingsman” series, but the heavy gunplay stands out anyway because it looks as if they digitally scrubbed the R-rated violence in post-production.

“Argylle” was greenlit by Apple and bound for a streaming premiere until Apple partnered with Universal for a theatrical release. It belongs on Apple TV+ as a viewing option only for people who have already watched literally everything else on Apple TV+.

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Tyler Wilson can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.