There may be a good film buried inside Kingsman: The Secret Service, a well-cast and sporadically entertaining but overly long, exceedingly violent and ultimately perplexing spin on the comic-book action movie.
Based very loosely on a graphic novel, Mark Millar and David Gibbons’ The Secret Service, it supposes that there’s a super-secret British spy agency where not only are the agents well-trained and well-equipped but exceedingly well-dressed. Working out of what appears to be an exclusive men’s shop on London’s stylish Savile Row, the Kingsman organization turns grooming into warfare; many of the sartorial choices are actually weapons in disguise. True, James Bond has done this before, but these guys make Bond look like Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Colin Firth is lead agent Harry Hart (aka Galahad), a man who feels guilty because one of his crew was killed in the Middle East a decade ago. While visiting the man’s widow and young son, he gives the boy a number to call if he ever gets into real trouble.
Flash forward to present day, where Mom is involved with a low-life and the kid’s a working-class street tough who goes by the name of Eggsy (an impressive Taron Egerton) and seems to be on the fast track to nowhere. If he doesn’t change his ways, he’s going to be in prison for a long stay or worse.
In fact, it’s from jail — after a run-in with the cops — where Eggsy remembers Harry’s words from years before. The next thing he knows, he’s Eliza Doolittle to Harry’s Henry Higgins (there’s actually a funny My Fair Lady joke in the film) and is in training for a slot as a Kingsman.
As it turns out, not only does he have to worry about his Kingsman competition — most of the others vying for the opening are posh-accented, upper-class brats who look down on him — but saving the world, too. Harry and Eggsy have to take down the evil Internet billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who has a Pinky-and-the-Brain-style plan to dominate the planet through SIM cards.
The plots of these types of films matter little; their appeal rests in the execution, and this is where Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), working from a script he co-wrote with Jane Goldman, stumbles. What is supposed to be both over-the-top and funny—– such as in the movie’s most obnoxiously violent scene when Harry turns into a killing machine inside a fundamentalist church — ends up just wearying.
Violent action scenes can work when there’s a sense of the skillful choreography (The Raid) or a sense of humor (Pulp Fiction). Kingsman has neither one of these elements going for it.
There’s a strong cast of supporting players, such as Michael Caine and Mark Strong — but they’re mostly wasted.
A movie like this needs a good, colorful villain, but Valentine doesn’t cut it. Jackson is one of those actors who can turn trash into treasure, but not this time. Part of the problem is that, inexplicably, he speaks with a lisp. If it’s supposed to be funny, it’s not.
Ultimately, there’s little to care about in Kingsman, a spy film that’s all dressed up with no place to go.
Cast: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill.
Director: Matthew Vaughn.
Screenwriters: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 129 minutes. Vulgar langugage, violence, gore, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.