A reclusive author who writes espionage novels about a secret agent and a global spy syndicate realizes the plot of the new book she’s writing starts to mirror real-world events, in real time.

Chuck says –

I think there is a good idea at the center of the bloated mess that is Andrew Vaughn’s “Argylle.” I say I think, because my mind and memory are a bit scrambled after sitting through yet another movie that confuses multiple, elaborately staged action sequences with entertainment. Sporting a talented cast and a budget north of $200 million, it’s yet another tiring example of what happens when a director is given free reign and allowed to wallow in excess to gratify his ego.

The film begins with a pseudo-James Bond introduction. Argylle (Henry Cavill, sporting a haircut I hope he was paid extra to sport) is a properly wooden, debonair spy whose mission goes sideways when the alluring(?) LaGrange (Dua Lipa) double-crosses him. A ridiculous chase, massive property destruction and the appearance of Argylle’s Man Friday, Wyatt (John Cena) ensues. This turns out to be a recreation of a sequence from the latest novel in the “Argylle” series written by Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is treating her adoring fans to a public reading.

Of course, not everything is as it seems. Turns out, Conway’s novels are somehow prescient in their depiction of geopolitical affairs, and she suddenly finds herself on the run from a mysterious outfit called The Division. Led by Ritter (Bryan Cranston), he wants her brought in to see just what she knows and how she knows it. Good thing Aiden (Sam Rockwell), a rogue agent, has taken it upon himself to keep Conway out of harm’s way. I bet you’d never guess that a chase across multiple continents takes place that finds the pair on the run, barely escaping capture again and again.

As I say, there’s a couple of good ideas rattling around here. Cavill is the perfect actor to spearhead a James Bond spoof and had Vaughn, with the money at his disposal, gone all-in with that concept, this could have been a hoot. Or had he delved further into the idea that Conway’s writing did in fact shape the future, similar to Marc Forster’s criminally overlooked “Stranger Than Fiction,” a smart, meta entertainment might have been the result.

However, those sorts of films require a degree of imagination and intelligence that seem beyond Vaughn and writer Jason Fuchs’ grasp. Granted there are twists, turns and double-crosses aplenty here, but it’s all so calculated that these plot points come off as less than inspired, an air of desperation hanging over the story. Shocks that are as plentiful as they are here cease to be effective, eye-rolling among viewers replacing gasps of surprise very quickly.

Couple this with endless action sequences, of which there are five, and tedium soon sets in. Coming in at 139 minutes, this is a production whose center does not hold and is smothered by laziness as well. Whether it’s Conway taking out a legion of bad guys during a deadly ice-skating routine, the on-the run pair shooting at their pursuers ad nauseum or their escaping an apartment only to jump off the roof to an awaiting speed boat, nothing is occurring that moves the story along.  These scenes, similar ones appearing in far too many modern movies, are filler that do nothing but signal narrative bankruptcy on the part of the filmmakers, their intent being to bludgeon the viewer, rather than engage them on an emotional or intellectual level.

That Howard and Rockwell have little in the way of chemistry hardly helps. These two pros do a fine job with their roles as they are written, but there’s a deadened quality to their interactions, a lack of spark that becomes painful to witness. As for the rest of the cast, which also includes Catherine O’Hara as Conway’s mother, Samuel L. Jackson as a mysterious benefactor and Arianna DeBose, utterly wasted as the requisite sidekick, they do all they can not to get lost in the tumult, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

The film reveals itself to be yet another example of what’s wrong with today’s big-budget Hollywood fare. That audiences are tiring of this sort of thing is encouraging- this film’s box office prognosis is not good – yet I have a feeling it will still be a while before we see more entertaining, streamlined entertainments. In the end, “Argylle” is just another piece of cookie cutter cinema.  No surprise there.

1 1/2 Stars

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