Cloak and Dagger Double Agents of “Argylle” Overstay Welcome

So insistent on its own cleverness as it churns out plot twists like sorcerer’s apprentice brooms, Matthew Vaughn’s meta spy thriller comedy Argylle (C) has the cumulative effect of wearing out its welcome. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a cat-loving spy novelist drawn into a real-life adventure similar to the events in her popular book series, accompanied by visions of her fictional hero (an underused Henry Cavill) and a mysterious stranger portrayed by a scrappy Sam Rockwell, who wrings whatever comedy he can out of his character. Howard and Rockwell lack the chemistry or distinction to cannily add much to the “author embroiled in her own book” canon à la Romancing the Stone and Lost City, so Vaughn spends most of the film’s unnatural duration trying to confound audience expectations with a Russian roulette of reveals. Once it’s apparent the central characters are mind-numbingly mid, all the shooting spree ballets and choreographed lair infiltrations feel like a prodigious pile-on. The notion of doubling down and doubling back on double agents leading double lives starts off octo-feisty but devolves into fussy galore. Meanwhile the busy enterprise squanders the talents of John Cena, Bryan Cranston, Ariana DeBose, Samuel L. Jackson and Catherine O’Hara while gliding through lackluster set pieces. The dapper design aesthetic Vaughn has been building for his Kingsman films just feels like a joyless rut here, with globetrotting locales appearing like LED screen backdrops; and for all the kinetic stunts and needle drops, the movie doesn’t register as brisk or snappy. There are occasional inspired bits and handsome flourishes dotting this often leaden lark, but it’s all too much at the service of a clunky vehicle in constant motion. Overly salted and shaken, this action romp proves to be cluttered popcorn.

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