Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Argylle: Cats and Spies

You would think an espionage novelist like Elly Conway would be a dog person, rather than a cat lady. She leads a shier, quieter life than Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone, even though she is so tuned into geopolitical realities, her novels have been described as prophetic, much like the techno-thrillers of Tom Clancy and David Hagberg. In fact, she her books have become a little too predictive for a shadowy SPECTRE-like organization in Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle, which opens Friday in theaters nationwide.

Conway does not get out much, but when she leaves home for a meeting (like this fateful day), she always brings her fat cat Alfie. She has a tailor-made argyle-print carrier for him, probably because Petco doesn’t have anything big enough for his plump rump. She will cling to his case for dear life while the mysterious Aidan rescues her from a train full of assassins. The shaggy stranger is nothing like suave fictional Agent Argylle, whom we see in action during fantasy segments and book-readings, as well as when he reassures the neurotic Conway, in her mind’s eye.

At least Aidan claims to be a fan—and a real spy. According to him, an international spy outfit (much like 
Citadel) just turned to the dark side, exactly like the plot twist of her latest novel. Unfortunately, she ended it with a cliffhanger, which nobody likes, especially not KAOS or THRUSH. He needs her to come up with a real ending to foil the bad guys, but it will not be that simple.

Weirdly, there are a lot of similarities between
Argylle and Citadel, but it would be spoilery for both to explain how. Regardless, they are worlds apart in terms of tone. Argylle always goes for laughs and it is not afraid to lean in slapstick. To their credit, some of Aidan’s early fight scenes are impressively choreographed, but they grow increasingly outlandish and silly.

Screenwriter Jason Fuchs throws one crazy plot twist after another at the audience, but the head-spinning revelations are all part of the winking fun. This movie can be a lot, but it knows and appreciates the genre it is spoofing. Plus, it has Alfie, who gets a lot of laughs, even though Chip (the cat who plays him) gives the film’s most deadpan performance.

One of the film’s pleasant surprises is the facility for broad, physical comedy Sam Rockwell shows as Aidan. Fans know he can be sarcastic, but here he gets to act loopy and rubber-boned—and it largely suits him. Bryce Dallas Howard cannot really match his energy as Conway. However, the film as a wealth colorful supporting players, like Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara, who chew the scenery like a Five Guys Burger, as the villainous Ritter and Conway’s overbearing mother.

Henry Cavill and John Cena have a jolly good time swaggering through Conway’s subconscious as her fictional heroes and Samuel L. Jackson looks as cool as ever as Solomon, a former government official, who might have some answers (incidentally, you can maybe pick up on some
Long Kiss Goodbye influences on Argylle too).

Thanks to Jackson’s Solomon, the CIA comes out of
Argylle relatively unscathed, which is quite refreshing. The bad guys are entirely fictional, so it still plays it safe in that respect (even though a lot of viewers out there are eager to see movie heroes finally take on Putin, the CCP, and the misogynistic Iranian regime, to give them the drubbing they deserve). Maybe in the sequel.

Arguably, a little less of
Argylle would have been much more. A little less goofiness would have grounded us in the characters more and a running time shorter than its current 139 minutes could have cut down on the repetitive schtick. It is rated PG-13, presumably for violence, but the cartoony nature blunts the impact, so 12 or 13 year-old spy fans or cat lovers will probably enjoy it (maybe as a double feature with Condorman). However, adults will eventually grow weary of the jokiness when Argylle opens this Friday (2/2) in theaters, including the AMC Lincoln Square in New York.