Review: Derivative spy spoof ‘Argylle’ overstays its welcome

Sam Rockwell and Bryce Dallas Howard in Argylle (Courtesy/Universal Pictures)

It would seem that director Matthew Vaughn ascribes to the idea that more is never enough.

The director of films like “X-Men: First Class,” “Layer Cake” and “Stardust” must have a serious hankering to make a James Bond film because his last three films have all been 007 pastiche, including “Argylle,” which opens today.

The movie adds a meta component that reminds one of the 2022 Sandra Bullock-Channing Tatum adventure-spoof “The Lost City,” on top of the more conventional plot points that harken back to films like 1963’s Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant classic “Charade,” 1984’s “Romancing the Stone” with Kathleen Turner and Michale Douglas and 2010’s “Knight and Day” with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise.

If imitation truly is the highest form of flattery, Vaughn is certainly casting a very wide net with his adulation.

Those gripes aside, the movie is entertaining if you enjoy fast-paced, silly spy-craft that makes the old Roger Moore Bond pictures of the 1970s seem realistic. The film’s tone isn’t “Get Smart,” but it is closer to that than the most recent Bond movies, starring Daniel Craig.

While the dashing Henry Cavill (Man of Steel) is the titular character, his role is actually a supporting one as the lead character in a series of best-selling spy novels written by author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard).

Cavill’s adventures as Agent Aubrey Argylle are played out on screen, but they are depictions of Elly’s imagination as she plots her next novel.

Oddly enough, Elly’s fiction is so spot on at predicting the nefarious schemes of various criminals that she not only is being watched by secret agents but also being targeted by criminal organizations.

A secret agent named Aiden (Sam Rockwell) steps in to stop an assassination attempt on Elly, and then wants to pick her brain as to where a rogue spy organization, head by Bryan Cranston’s Ritter, might be hiding an incriminating file that could bring it to its knees.

Elly realizes that while the American Aiden might not be as suave as her fictional British secret agent, he’s nearly as cool and competent.

By helping him, she might collect insight that will help her finish her novel with a bang.

Howard and Rockwell have excellent chemistry and that is what will likely make the film work for you, if it does.

The movie gets a bit long in the tooth at 2 hours and 19 minutes with a number of scenes that feel like the end before proceeding forward with even more hijinks.

Perhaps the key issue with the film is that spy craft with Rockwell and Howard is just as outlandish and ludicrous as the depiction of the fictional adventures of the Argylle character.

Had screenwriter Jason Fuchs and Vaughn drawn more of a distinction between the fictional Argylle and Rockwell’s Aiden and their individual adventures, the contrast might have made the film less banal and more rewarding.

The movie’s not bad. Individual scenes are quite funny and exciting. Vaughn knows how to direct action. Howard and Rockwell make an appealing duo with a lot of charisma, but once the film reveals where it is going, there are no real surprises. It’s like watching a collection of skits with essentially the same gag.

The movie also lacks much of the bawdy edge and humor that most of Vaughn’s films are known for.

It’s also another movie that made me wonder if the poor CGI effects are intentional for some ironic reason, or just the best the effects department could do under the constraints of the film?

I enjoyed the movie overall, but such silliness tickles me and allows me to overlook obvious flaws. Others might not offer the movie as much grace.

Grade: C

New in Local Theaters – Feb. 2, 2024

  • Argylle (PG-13) 2 hr. 19 min. (trailer)
    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight

Classic Corner – My Fair Lady

One of the most poignant and charming musicals of the 1960s celebrates its 60th anniversary as “My Fair Lady” returns to the big screen this week for two special showings.

The 1964 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adaptation of their play “May Fair Lady” plays at the Malco Razorback Cinema and Grill and Pinnacle Hills Cinema for special showings at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday.

The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” is a classic by any standard with excellent performances by Audrey Hepburn as Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as the arrogant professor Henry Higgins.

The stuffed-shirt and self-righteous Higgins wagers with fellow phonetics expert Col. Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) that he’s not only skilled enough to correct the phonetics but also cultured enough to teach proper manners to any girl and pass her off as a product of high society.

Doolittle overhears the assertion and appears on Higgins’ doorstep the next morning to take him up on the proposition, which Pickering quickly agrees to fund.

Set in Edwardian London, the musical directed by George Cukor is not only enchanting but also a stab at the pomposity and values of social classes where social graces are valued more than the matters of the heart.

It’s also an old-time love story where the two main characters think they despise one another before realizing what the audience already knew — that they can’t live without each other.

The film is one of Hepburn and Harrison’s key performances. As always Hepburn is adorable, even though her lyrics were dubbed in post production by soprano ghost singer Marni Nixon. Nixon filled the same role in other musicals of the day, including “The King and I,” and “Westside Story.”

Harrison’s arrogance and later his heart show why his performance is considered one of the best musical performances of the era.

The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won eight, including Best Picture, Best Director for Cukor, and Best Actor for Harrison.

While musicals aren’t the staple in cinemas they once were, “My Fair Lady” holds up because of the strength of the performances, the elegance of the music and song, and most importantly the truth at the core of the film’s story.