Review: “Argylle” starts out well but goes down with a thud

It's disappointing to see director Matthew Vaughn drop the ball with such a slam dunk.

Ellie is definitely not the famous singer-songwriter and huge Kansas City Chiefs fan, says Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Ellie. This won't stop Swiftologists from pointing out that Elly carries a cat bag with a window, just like Swift, and that the cat is a Scottish Fold, Swift's favorite breed.

If you want to dig up more evidence, get out there yourself. I have a sad excuse to review the movie.

Let's be fair and admit that at least “Argylle” starts off well and is goofy fun, a PG-13 change of pace from Vaughn's usual R-rated approach to “Kick-Ass” and “Layer Cake.” Vaughn says he wanted to make a movie that his young daughters could watch. The problem is that Argylle doesn't know when to quit. At 2 hours and 19 minutes, it's exhausting for kids of all ages.

Howard stars as Ellie as a cat lady from Colorado who lives vicariously through her bestseller about Agent Argyle 007, played by former Superman Henry Cavill. The plot is basically an elevator pitch from “Romancing the Stone” with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. But since this rom-com came out in 1984 — ancient history for younger audiences — no one will remember or care about it.

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No sooner has Argyle lit up the dance floor with femme fatale Lagrange (singer Dua Lipa, who will play a young blonde) than he and his team – John Cena and Ariana DeBose – defy death in stunts with some of the stars. Poor digital effects in recent memory.

A quick clip suggests that these fictional scenes are read by Ellie's mother (a very funny Catherine O'Hara), who thinks her daughter's uptight adventures aren't working. Score one for my mom. It's time for a little reality into Ellie's adventures.

And — whoosh — Ellie and her cat Alfie are on a train to visit her folks, not expecting to meet Aidan, a real spy expert who is attractively played as the anti-Cavill by the scruffy, uncharming Sam Rockwell. Prepare for an onslaught of villains sent by Ritter (Bryan Cranston, no less), a crime boss who wants to know how Eli's books reflect his own activities.

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

As a fan of Vaughn at the height of his fun and menace — “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “X-Men: First Class” — it's disappointing to watch him drop the ball with such a bang. Maybe it would have helped Swift. Maybe Vaughn's upcoming “Deadpool 3” movie will ease the pain of everything that's wrong with “Argylle.” Excuse the Swede pun, but right now, I can't get rid of it. I remember it all well.

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