Review: 'Argylle' starts off good but lands with a thud

It's disappointing to see director Matthew Vaughn drop the ball with a thud.

February 2, 2024, 4:13 AM

What if the social media buzz is right and Taylor Swift, using the pseudonym Elly Conway, actually wrote a series of "Argylle" spy novels? They'd have to be better than the big-screen piffle that director Matthew Vaughn of the "Kingsman" films and screenwriter Jason Fuchs ("Wonder Woman") have made of "Argylle," now in theaters before its debut on Apple TV+.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Elly, says that Elly is definitely not the iconic singer, songwriter and Kansas City Chiefs super fan. That won't stop Swiftologists from pointing out that Elly carries a catpack with a window, just like Swift, and the kitty is a Scottish Fold, Swift's favorite breed.

If you want to dig for more clues, knock yourself out. I have a sad excuse for a movie to review.

PHOTO: A scene from the movie Argylle.
A scene from the movie Argylle.
Universal Pictures

Let's be fair and admit that at least "Argylle" starts off as good, goofy fun, a PG-13 change of pace from Vaughn's usual R-rated roughhousing in "Kick-Ass" and "Layer Cake." Vaughn says he wanted to make a movie his young daughters could see. The trouble is "Argylle" doesn't know when to quit. At two hours and 19 minutes, it's exhausting for kids of all ages.

Howard plays Elly as a Colorado cat lady who lives vicariously through her bestsellers about hunky, 007-ish Agent Argylle, played by former Superman Henry Cavill. The plot is basically a lift from "Romancing the Stone" with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. But since that romcom caper came out in 1984 -- ancient history for young audiences -- no one will remember or care.

No sooner is Argylle heating up the dance floor with femme fatale Lagrange (singer Dua Lipa in for a slinky, blonded-up cameo) than he and his team -- John Cena and Ariana DeBose -- are defying death in stunts with some of the shoddiest digital effects in recent memory.

A quick cut indicates that these fantasy scenes are being read by Elly's mom (the sublimely funny Catherine O'Hara), who thinks her daughter's strained cliffhangers aren't working. Score one for mom. It's time for a little reality to bust into Elly's adventures.

PHOTO: Dua Lipa in a scene from the movie Argylle.
Dua Lipa in a scene from the movie Argylle.
Universal Pictures

And -- whoosh -- Elly and her cat Alfie are on a train to visit her folks, not expecting to meet Aidan, a real expert in espionage appealingly played as the anti-Cavill by a scruffy and decidedly un-glam Sam Rockwell. Cue an attack of the baddies sent by Ritter (Bryan Cranston, no less), a crime boss who wants to know how Elly's books are mirroring his own activities.

It's not long before Samuel L. Jackson shows up threatening to introduce Elly to the real Agent Argylle since she can't keep Argylle and Aidan straight in her head. No spoilers, but it's really hard to work up any excitement, what with the cartoonish acting, the plodding repetition of the action sequences, and the endless setups for jokes that rarely land.

As a fan of Vaughn at his mirth-and-menace peak -- "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "X-Men: First Class" -- it's disappointing to watch him drop the ball with such a thud. Maybe Swift could have helped. Maybe Vaughn's upcoming "Deadpool 3" will ease the pain of all that's wrong with "Argylle." Pardon the Swiftian pun, but right now, I can't shake it off. I remember it all too well.