Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Jason Fuchs
Stars: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell
Synopsis: 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.
I imagine that during the studio pitch, director Matthew Vaughn and scribe Jason Fuchs sold Argylle as a fun spy adventure with twists at every turn. I’m almost certain that the words “spectacular,” “stunning,” and “remarkable” were never uttered and were intentionally left out because there is simply nothing surprising about any of the curveballs it tries to throw at the audience. Any spy cliche or trope you can think of, Argylle has it in spades. The result is a jam-packed film overstuffed with so much utter nonsense that you could call it an attack on the senses with diphenhydramine.
And that’s a shame because anyone who loves a good spy novel or movie should love Argylle. You have a great cast where Bryce Dallas Howard plays a socially reclusive author, Elly Conway, who spends too much time with her cat, Argylle, and not enough trying to find someone to share her life with. That’s her mother (the irreplaceable Catherine O’Hara) talking, who also adds the fifth book in the Agent Argylle series, which doesn’t have an ending that will appease her fans. However, her novels have hit too close to home.
At least, that’s what a stranger on a train named Aiden (Sam Rockwell) tells her before defending her against a couple of dozen armed assassins. Confusingly, Howard’s Elly keeps trying to run away from Aiden, the one man not trying to kill her, but we will get into that later. Aiden helps her escape and then tells her about a secret rogue organization called The Division, led by Director Ritter (Bryan Cranston), who wants to abduct Elly (and not her cat) to find out how she unwittingly knows so much about their dirty deeds that she puts to paper.
The film slogs along at 134 minutes. To put that in perspective, that’s on par with the last three of the Fast & Furious franchise, and some of the things that happen in Argylle are just as ludicrous. It’s hard to tell you just how much that’s true with facts because we cannot ruin it with spoilers. As much as I try to keep things cautious, most of this involves laying parallel narratives with Elly’s previous four Argylle novels, the current one she is trying to write, and the real-life mystery that places it all together. Frankly, Fuchs’s script thinks it’s smarter than it is.
Much of the film’s plot relies on red herrings or implausible common-sense connections. Not to mention the endless montages of a one-note joke comparing Henry Cavill’s Argylle to Sam Rockwell’s Aiden. When the film makes its big reveals, it’s more of a cheap trick where, if you look back, significant character decisions feel like filler and vain attempts to move the story forward. Vaughn tries to distract most of this with big names, handsome faces, the charm of its leads, and a cute cat. And to his credit, he nearly does.
Rockwell brings the type of mixed lunacy and folksy charm that has made him a household name. I could see the pairing of Henry Cavill and John Cena in a real-life buddy action comedy. I will admit the film’s best scene, involving a ridiculously goofy song and dance ballet of bullets, did put a wicked grin on my face. It’s so out of place but so entertaining that I almost forgave everything that came before it.
Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo is a head-scratcher. He plays a former head of the CIA with a man cave filled with sports memorabilia, a ticker for stocks and sports betting, and a movie-sized screen for espionage and Lakers games. Personally, I was hoping this was Jackson’s real-life office, and he made the filmmakers bring the cameras to his doorstep in a power move built off his legendary Hollywood swagger and gravitas.
And that’s how distracted I was with the relentless onslaught of Hollywood nothingness that Argylle is (or maybe that’s just my crippling case of ADHD). Even the final scene and mid-credits scene are head-scratching. While I enjoyed the endless charm of Rockwell, you’ll be asking yourself, “Who cares?” until the final credits roll.