“Bruv, what number sequel is this again?”
The “Kingsman” franchise, a superficial spin on the spy genre, is but two films old. So why does “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” have all the earmarks of a series running on creative fumes?
- The villainous plot is a snooze
- The celebrity additions get precious little screen time
- The film’s mid section is as flabby as Homer Simpson after a donut bender
Yes, the film’s attention to sartorial details still matters. And director Matthew Vaughn offers some slick action scenes you’ll want to rewind on home video some day.
Otherwise, it’s abundantly clear the original “Kingsman” should have been a one and done affair.
The Kingsman spies are in sorry shape as the story opens. A supervillian with a fetish for ’50s kitsch (Julianne Moore) has decimated their ranks. Their home base lies in ruins. The organization is all but wiped from the British map. Moore’s Poppy missed killing Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the raw recruit from the original film.
So it’s up to Eggsy, along with the brainy Merlin (Mark Strong) to rebuild. And that means reaching out to the group’s U.S.-based cousins known as the Statesman.
That’s where Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges show up to collect a paycheck and, well, we’re not sure what else. Bridges trots out his mush-mouthed shtick he’s been perfecting since “True Grit.” Berry appears both brainy and bored.
And Tatum? He makes a splashy entrance and then essentially disappears. It’s like 007 meets the “Love Boat,” casting wise.
“Kingsman: Golden Circle” makes so many mistakes it’s hard to organize them into one handy file. For starters, it thinks we’ve developed an unshakable bond with these characters after ONE movie. That’s a knee slapper right there.
Then, we’re supposed to get all emotional about Eggsy’s romantic life. Not happening.
The film’s “edgy” violence is more oft-putting than fun. Seeing grown men repeatedly tossed into a meat grinder is no one’s idea of a riot.
Naturally Colin Firth, whose fantastic character dies in the original film, is back. When your franchise doesn’t adhere to any form of logic you can do as you please. But Firth’s superspy doesn’t remember his old self. So he dodders around for nearly half the film, sucking what little life there is from the tale.
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All of the above is less miserable than what Elton John endures. He’s cast as himself, one of Poppy’s victims forced to sing for her bemusement. It’s a campy, misbegotten cameo that will make hardcore fans cringe.
The first “Kingsman” offered an un-PC twist, making the villain a global warming acolyte. Here, Poppy is obsessed with drug legalization. The sobering message is so off tone you expect a record scratch sound to accompany each speech.
It’s like watching a late night comedy show and getting a serious speech on health care.
HiT or Miss: “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is 1/10th as fun as the original film. And that movie was no classic, even if the leads looked smashing.
No one does the put upon male better than Ben Stiller.
He perfected that shtick with the “Fockers” series. The franchise clicked, in part, because we all could relate to his character no matter how wacky the stories got.
Stiller attempts a similar stunt with “Brad’s Status.” He’s a middle-aged dad bemoaning his income bracket while touring colleges with his son. You’re meant to see his flaws and admit, “yeah, that’s me, too.”
Stiller’s Brad Sloan runs a marginally successful nonprofit with very little social cache. He’s married to the upbeat Melanie (Jenna Fischer) and has a teen-aged son named Troy (Austin Abrams).
Brad and Troy take a trip to Boston to help the teen suss out the best college. Will it be Harvard? Yale? Tufts?
All Brad can think about is his own lot in life. Why didn’t his career take off like his ol’ college chums (Luke Wilson, Mike White, Michael Sheen and Jemaine Clement)? Why is Melanie so darn pleased with their so darned ordinary life?
Whatever promise he once had as an idealistic young man is gone. Vanished.
“There’s no more potential. This is it,” he says.
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What a smart setup for a Ben Stiller movie. Only White, the film’s writer/director, has little fresh to say about that “Status.” The movie delivers the obvious, corny dream sequences (Clement has not one but TWO bikini girls on his arms). Strangers fawn over Sheen’s character, a charismatic pundit.
What else ya got?
Meanwhile, Brad sinks deeper into his first-world depression. A gorgeous college student lectures Brad on his White Privilege … and even conservative audiences will nod along with her.
Plus, we get so much narration from Stiller’s Brad we’re dying for him to shut up and listen to himself.
Stiller could make most any self-absorbed character work. White won’t let him.
The writer/director once created the compelling “Chuck and Buck.” Here, he commits the storyteller’s Cardinal Sin. He shows, then tells. Watch Brad appear giddy during one sequence. Then, Brad’s voice over says, “I felt giddy.”
FAST FACT: Ben Stiller wrote for “Saturday Night Live” in 1989 but found the atmosphere too negative.
Fischer’s character could have saved the say. If we saw more of Melanie and Brad’s marriage it might flesh out his sense of ennui. Instead, she appears for a few throwaway sequences, nothing more. She needs to have a talk with her agent, stat.
Brad’s wealthy pals are caricatures, nothing more. Naturally, we’ll learn their lives aren’t as amazing as they appear. How … predictable.
Brad Sloan may be 47, but he never got comfortable in his own skin. Once more White stumbles onto something profound, the core of an irresistible middle-aged comedy.
What he delivers is more of a dissertation on wasted film resources.
HiT or Miss: “Brad’s Status” packs a terrific concept and the ideal leading man for the role. Then we watch as it all crumbles.