By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Kingsman: The Secret Service falls so short of the mark, it’s not even funny.
This comedic thriller is neither comedic enough nor thrilling enough to stop us from yearning, as we watch it unfold, to instead see the movies it’s making fun of.
The amusing absurdity of the James Bond movies, the goofiness of the gadget-happy 007 formula, comes to mind over and over again throughout Kingsman: The Secret Service because the script for this espionage-movie parody keeps referencing it.
But the literal license to kill has been combined with a metaphorical license to kill the audience.
The problem is that this sendup is so much less amusing than the movies it sends up.
“Kingsman” is a well-funded independent international intelligence agency based in London, not connected with the government, employing elite crimefighters –- handsomely suited British gentlemen spies who call themselves “tailors,” sport Knights of the Round Table-inspired monikers like Arthur and Merlin and Galahad and Lancelot, and use upper-class paraphernalia such as umbrellas and pens as murder weapons –- and operating out of an elegant tailor shop of the same name on Savile Row.
Colin Firth stars as suave and well-mannered Harry Hart, an experienced secret agent working for Kingsman’s top-secret spying operation who recruits and trains his protégé, a streetwise kid from the wrong side of the tracks (nicknamed “Eggsy” and played by Taron Egerton), the son of a deceased colleague who saved Hart’s life years ago.
The supporting cast includes Samuel L. Jackson as the psychotic, lisping billionaire villain intent on killing millions of people, Sofia Boutella as his bionic-legged homicidal henchwoman, Michael Caine as the tricky head of the Kingsman organization, Mark Strong as a Kingsman instructor, and Mark Hamill as a kidnapped British professor.
Director Matthew Vaughn, with three triumphs (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) and one stumble (Stardust) on his résumé, who was also one of the three Kingsman: The Secret Service producers, co-wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman, basing it on the comic book The Secret Service, by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.
He keeps things moving along at a sprightly clip, but is much too enamored of cartoonish ultra-violence in this otherwise gentlemanly enterprise.
On the hypocrisy scale, this film isn’t a satirical critique of gratuitous violence but a wrongheaded embrace of it.
The Austin Powers franchise is its obvious superhero-spoof precursor. What Kingsman shares with it is the formula of stylized action and irreverent, R-rated humor. Where they part company is in Vaughn’s willingness for Kingsman to turn suddenly over-the-top bloody, something the Austin Powers films assiduously avoided.
Vaughn’s dip in the pool of old-school spy flicks attempts to be both a sober tribute and a giggly takeoff, and ends up as a shaky combination of the two, delivering precious little in the way of thrills or laughs.
Firth, in his first action role, acquits himself respectably as the resourceful, deadly, world-weary operative and (CGI-aided) martial artist. But it still registers as the waste of a skilled and underemployed actor.
So we’ll send up 2 stars out of 4 for the sputtering spy-flick sendup, Kingsman: The Secret Service. The secret’s out: it’s barely serviceable.