Advertisement

‘Argylle’ delivers a mix of action and laughs that’s fit for a Kingsman

After a trio of “Kingsman” movies, director Matthew Vaughn essentially hits the reset button with “Argylle,” another fun, highly stylized and less violent spy movie. Cast to the hilt, the film proves inventively twisty if a little convoluted, with the modest disclaimer that it’s not as good as the trailer makes it look.

Without getting into the details so as to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that “Argylle” turns out to be less derivative of “Romancing the Stone” than the initial concept might suggest. Granted, both that 1984 movie and this one feature a successful but perhaps mousy author being confronted with the exotic (and dangerous) adventures about which she’s written, but the similarities pretty much end there.

Said author, Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), is introduced at an event for the fourth book in her “Argylle” series, which features a namesake spy (Henry Cavill) dealing with fabulous, globetrotting, James Bond-style threats, facing off against an evil foe (Dua Lipa, making the most of limited screen time) and flanked by a hulking sidekick (John Cena).

Despite her action-filled books, Elly prefers to stay home with her cat (who, if billed fairly, would be the movie’s third lead), even bringing him along in a backpack when she boards a train to visit her mom (Catherine O’Hara). Before getting there, though, she’s intercepted by a less-brawny version of her literary hero named Aidan (Sam Rockwell), who gives her the equivalent of the “Come with me if you want to live” line and whisks her off into a world that mirrors the one in her books.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell as an author and spy, respectively, in "Argylle." - Peter Mountain/Universal Picture
Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell as an author and spy, respectively, in "Argylle." - Peter Mountain/Universal Picture

Why is Elly being targeted? Thanks to the screenplay by Jason Fuchs (“Pan”), that comes out gradually, with a whole lot of action in between, and a lineup of costars that includes Bryan Cranston, Ariana DeBose, Sofia Boutella and Samuel L. Jackson (a “Kingsman” alum).

As Elly’s guide on this overwhelming journey, Rockwell steals the show, presenting a more human-scale spy who still does amazing things with smart-alecky wit and bravado. Cavill, meanwhile, serves as a shrewd addition in a supporting role given his association with the genre (see “Mission: Impossible” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) when not wearing a cape.

Produced for Apple TV+, which has invested heavily in prestige movies like “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Napoleon,” “Argylle” is receiving a robust theatrical release seemingly designed, smartly, to capitalize on the cast and trailer during playoff football.

As noted, Vaughn’s work stands out for its energetic and playful approach to action, which is very much in evidence here. That said, this represents a bit of a rebound after his defining run with “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class” – one of the best entries in that series – and “Kingsman” gave way to that last film’s less worthy sequel and prequel.

Consumed on its unassuming terms, “Argylle” is undeniably fun. Because while you might not be able to judge one of Elly’s books by its cover, as far as what the movie aims to deliver, you pretty much can.

“Argylle” premieres February 2 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13. Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com