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MOVIE REVIEW | 0 stars

‘Argylle’ deserves a big fat hiss — and zero stars

Our critic hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. In his first no-star review for the Globe, he explains why.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway and Sam Rockwell as Aidan in "Argylle," directed by Matthew Vaughn.Peter Mountain/Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV

(Here there be spoilers! Proceed at your own risk.)

“When she put the knives on her boots and started ice skating across the giant oil slick, wouldn’t the sparks have caused her to explode?”

That was a question I heard a confused gentleman ask his movie partner as I walked out of “Argylle.” I had two thoughts. One: “Dude, this movie isn’t worth the thoughtful consideration you’re giving it”; and two: “I wish she had blown up.” I mean, she’s doing triple axels with a machine gun while heels-deep in crude oil, for Pete’s sake.

Sure, that sounds mean. But I bet you root for villainous demises with sadistic glee all the time at the movies. Don’t hold me to a higher standard because I’m the film critic. We’re petty, too! Besides, this movie is equally unkind to the hundreds of people it kills.

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Henry Cavill (left) and John Cena in "Argylle."Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV

Unfortunately, the character toward whom I harbored all that ill will is one of the heroes of the film — saying any more would be a total spoiler, not to mention a waste of your time and mine. To quote Roger Ebert’s famous pan of “North” (1994), “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it.”

You may recognize “Argylle” from the trailer that’s played before practically every movie over the past few months. You may also have seen the giant lobby cards that depict a cute gray cat trapped in one of those hard-shell backpacks that look like a space helmet. “Once you know the secret don’t let the cat out of the bag” is the tagline emblazoned on the posters.

The marketing for this movie is as aggressive as director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman” movies, and also misleading. I’m sure cat lovers will walk in expecting the cat who plays Alfie to have a major role in the film. Let me disabuse you of that notion right now. Alfie is useless for the first two hours of the movie. When he’s not trapped in that carrying case, he’s dropped on the floor, thrown off a roof, and flung off tables; he even has his little plastic backpack window shot out by gunfire.

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Chip as Alfie the Cat in "Argylle." Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and Marv

Alfie’s big moment involves scratching out the eyes of a villain played by a respected Oscar-nominated actor. That guy deserved it, too. And, no, Agent Argylle isn’t Alfie the cat. That’s not “letting the cat out of the bag,” either; the actual secret is far, far more unbelievable, stupid, and unsatisfying. My lips are sealed, though. If I had to sit through 139 minutes of dreck to find out what it is, so do you.

Cat lovers, save your money. Fans of Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, might want to pony up the 22 bucks. She’s Elly Conway, author of a series of spy novels featuring Argylle the spy. The film opens with a re-creation of a passage from her newest novel that she’s reading to an audience of adoring fans. Henry Cavill plays Argylle, and John Cena is his partner in these reenactments. Dua Lipa plays a doomed assassin who boogies with Argylle on the dance floor. This scene is a convincing, fun parody of spy-movie absurdities, something “Argylle” aspires to be but miserably fails to achieve at every other turn.

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Dua Lipa as Lagrange in "Argylle."Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and MARV

On a train ride to visit her mother (Catherine O’Hara), Elly is accosted by a hirsute surfer guy named Aidan (Sam Rockwell) who recognizes her. He says he’s a fan of her books and tells her he’s a spy. She thinks he’s the standard-issue kook until people start shooting at her and he leaps into action. The resulting sequence alternates between Rockwell and Cavill doing the fighting (don’t ask why) and is so poorly constructed it loses all impact.

Turns out Elly’s books are eerily prescient when it comes to predicting the next moves of a CIA-like syndicate led by Bryan Cranston. Aidan’s organization, run by ex-CIA agent Sam Jackson, needs her to write the next chapter of her book so they can figure out the syndicate’s next step. Elly’s imagination proves consistently correct.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Elly Conway in "Argylle."Universal Pictures, Apple Original Films, and Marv

Meanwhile, Jason Fuchs’s screenplay throws twist after twist at us, each more preposterous than the last (he’s seen “The Manchurian Candidate,” for sure) while Vaughn directs confusing and interminable, CGI-heavy action scenes.

“Argylle” is a cynical cash grab that has the audacity to use that “new” Beatles song, “Now and Then” (itself a cynical cash grab pieced together with far more skill than this movie) as the basis for its score and the “love theme” for Aidan and Elly. Considering this movie was shot in 2021, Rockwell and Howard are clearly reacting to something else, and it shows.

Apple paid $200 million for this entry in the “Kingsman” universe, which explains the overhype. They obviously want their money back. Don’t give it to them. You want a CGI-kitty action movie? Watch 2016′s “Keanu.”

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O STARS

ARGYLLE

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jason Fuchs. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, Catherine O’Hara, Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cena, Dua Lipa. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, Alamo Drafthouse Seaport, AMC Causeway, suburbs. 139 minutes. PG-13 (endless violence, F-words, mistreated cat who should fire its agent)


Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.