The Secret Service review

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I was really hoping to like Kingsman: The Secret Service. First of all, it’s directed by Matthew Vaughn, who made two movies I really like: Layer Cake and Stardust. And the trailers made it look fun. And who doesn’t like Colin Firth, right?

Well.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The film is indeed snappy, has some visual punch, and a fun cast. It also has a few very big laughs, which is always a good thing. And it’s got Mark Strong in the cast, which of course makes any film better.

But.

kingsmanposter0002 (2)The movie has a tone problem. It’s trying to be this veddy veddy British 007 pastiche, which is fine, but that can’t hide the fact that it’s just another remake of Men in Black with Firth in the Tommy Lee Jones role and buff newcomer Taron Egerton as Will Smith. Ripping off a famously terrific movie is risky business, because if you’re not careful, we’ll just sit there and think about how much better the original was.

But let’s get to the tone problem. The movie starts off big, bold, funny, and jammed with action. Tongues are firmly set into cheeks. So far, so good.

Then my beloved Samuel L. Jackson is introduced. He’s clearly in the movie to play the Bond villain, which sounds great on paper. In practice, however, he simply makes one lazy character choice – a lisp, isn’t that HILARIOUS?? – and that’s it. That’s his entire character.

Eventually Jackson’s nefarious plan is revealed, and here is where the movie takes its fatal plunge. There is an extended sequence in a Kentucky church which I found extremely distasteful (as did my movie going companion). In fact, I nearly walked out during it, it was so awful.

And let me just state than when your movie has me — a self-avowed militant, angry atheist – rooting for the redneck, hate-speech-spewing arch-conservative KKK-style Evangelicals, then your movie has a big problem.

I actually won’t be at all surprised if some Christian groups call for boycotts of the film because of this scene. And if they do, I will be sympathetic to them.

It’s ironic, because a running joke in the movie entails one character saying to another, “That’s not the kind of movie this is.” And that’s precisely the mistake the filmmakers made here. Long scenes containing the level of brutality depicted in the church scene simply do not belong in a frothy, comedic spy caper. Not to get all jingoistic, but this strikes me as a very “British” sort of mistake. I hear the studio pressed Vaughn to remove this scene and he refused.

I’m with the studio.kingsman-colin-firth-church-scene

I disengaged from the film after that scene. The movie really lost me and couldn’t get me back. This gave me plenty of time (the movie is an overlong 126 minutes) to think about how tired I am of $200 million children’s movies.

When I posted my yearly Movie Awards this week, an old friend accused me of being a snob, focusing on only “art house” films. Well, to that I plead guilty. And this movie is the kind of movie that’s turned me into that kind of snob.

You may enjoy Kingsman much more than I did, and you may think my objections to it are all terribly old-fashioned, in a “get off my lawn!!” kind of way. But let me know what you think about the church scene. Particularly if you’re a Christian.

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