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Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O'Hara, Samuel L Jackson, Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa, John Cena, Chip, Richard E Grant

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Elizabeth 'Elly' Connor (Dallas Howard) is a wildly successful author of Bond-style spy novels spun round her principal character, Argylle (Cavill), all of which she's churned out in the last five years.

Then, on a train with her cat Alfie (Chip), off to see her mother (O'Hara) and father (Cranston) in Chicago, she is plunged into a real-life spy adventure, in which an agent called Aidan (Rockwell, looking more than ever like the old tough-guy actor Dick Powell) is pitting his wits, and every other part of him, against the sinister 'Division'.

After action sequences from America and London to Paris, it turns out that Elly may have a secret past (unremembered by her) as a special agent called Rachel Kylle (R Kylle = Argylle, geddit?). But whose identity is real and whose side are they on?

It's hard to know where to begin with a review of this bloated, over-inflated comic thriller whose wildly over-choreographed, and over-extended action sequences part all company with any reality and make the old TV series The Avengers look like Scorsese's GoodFellas.

Dallas Howard is an appealing actress, but she is just not cut out for acrobatic action scenes or slinky spy-wear. And it all reaches the giddy limit when she and Rockwell mow down scores of Division goons while performing a spectacular routine from Strictly Come Dancing, followed by her slitting dozens of bad-guy throats while careering around on an oil slick on knives fashioned as skates. 'That's the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life,' says Rockwell at one point, and he's right.

You find yourself half-hoping that the whole thing will turn out to be a wildly absurd figment of Elly's imagination while struggling with writer's block. Alas, not so, and it's hard to discern what tone Vaughn is aiming for here. If by making the action fast, frenzied and ridiculous, he hopes to grab his audience's attention, he's mistaken. It would be tempting to say that the cat steals the show, except there isn't really a show to steal.

The end credits promise there is a sequel Argylle: The Movie - Book One still to come. I have my prayer mat out already hoping that the gods above will somehow prevent it happening.

David Quinlan

USA 2024. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by Cinelab.
141 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 01 Feb 2024