Magazine article Variety

Spoof Offers 'Service' with a Smile

Magazine article Variety

Spoof Offers 'Service' with a Smile

Article excerpt

For those who think James Bond has gotten a little too serious in his old age, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" brings the irreverence back to the British spy genre, offering a younger, streetwise variation on the 007 formula while gleefully pushing audiences' favorite elements - sartorial taste, killer toys and cracked-out supervillains - to hyperbolic extremes. Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' 2012 comicbook series, and directed by Matthew Vaughn in much the same pop, over-the-top style as his earlier "Kick-Ass," Fox's franchise-ready oneoff at first poses as a more teen-friendly option, before taking a hard turn into decidedly R-rated territory.

For nearly three-quarters of its running time, "Kingsman" could pass as a flip, PG-13 alternative to the increasingly gritty turn the genre has taken in the wake of Jason Bourne - a fact it acknowledges outright when debonair operative Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and cuckoo billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) talk spy-movie aesthetics. "Give me a far-fetched diabolical plot," Jackson's wonderfully eccentric villain says with a lisp, "like the old Bond movies." But the film also reserves the right to go gonzo in its final stretch, and while there's sure to be an outcry from some corners over the turning-point scene, no one can contest that the pic's last couple of reels distinguish it from countless other spy-movie knockoffs. And let's not forget that Vaughn effectively gave Daniel Craig a 007 audition with the slick 2004 crime caper "Layer Cake."

Here, the helmer launches yet another British talent, Taron Egerton, a compact, bulldog-like actor with a square jaw and scrunched-up features who goes from scallie tough to Savile Row neat over the course of the film. Egerton plays Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, whose father dies in service of an organization so secret, his widow and son never realize the significance of his sacrifice, which serves as the first of several punchy setpieces in a pic that's front-loaded with action scenes.

Ignorant of his own potential, Eggsy grows up in a grim South London housing project, falls in with a group of goodfor-nothing thugs and risks spending his remaining years behind bars. At least, that's the way things are headed until Harry springs him from prison and offers him an alternative: to replace recently fallen agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport), who died in a violent yet admirably bloodless attempt to free a kidnapped scientist (a heavily made-up Mark Hamill). The scientist is one of many prominent figures who've vanished as Valentine readies his far-fetched diabolical plot.

And so, two elaborate yet extremely well-oiled mechanisms are set in motion. In the first, we get young Eggsy thrust into a high-stakes boot camp to determine which of a group of new recruits is worthy of becoming the next Kingsman. At the same time, Valentine moves forward with his plan to distribute free SIM cards programmed to trigger an aggressive killing frenzy worldwide, thereby solving the climate-change crisis by eradicating all but a hand-picked elite.

Class plays a key role in "Kingsman," which hinges on the fantasy that a kid from the projects could assimilate into London's most exclusive circles. Hidden behind a suit-shop storefront on Savile Row, Kingsman HQ is accessed through a series of "Get Smart"-style secret doors and tunnels, while the group itself is presided over by an old blue blood played by Michael Caine. But these elite types have a critical weakness: They believe in their own superiority, which makes them no better than Valentine in the end. …

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