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Kingsman: The Secret Service

(2015) ** 1/2 R
129 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Matthew Vaughn. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Adrian Quinton, Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Hamill.

/content/films/4770/1.jpgIf you're reading this review, you've probably read a few others in your day, and a number of them have likely mentioned tone. Tone's a tricky thing (like "chemistry"), and contrary to what some may think, not just an excuse critics make for not liking a movie. Take Kingsman: The Secret Service, which chooses, with gusto, style over substance.

Loosely adapted by writer-director Matthew Vaughn and his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman from the comic book The Secret Service by writer Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) and artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Kingsman: The Secret Service may as well be a spy remake of Kick-Ass. Like that earlier comic-to-film property, Secret Service doubles down on glib ultraviolence while pressing buttons of class-consciousness and teasing out pop-culture allusions and self-aware witticisms. But this time, the postmodernism feels played out.

Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a well-tailored superspy in the vein of The Avengers (the British one, don't you know) or The Ipcress File. Hart works for an "independent international intelligence agency" called Kingsman, which finds itself in need of a new recruit when a top agent bites the dust. In part answering for a familial debt, Hart selects for his protege Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton, unfortunately as bland as his "chav" character), then guides him through training and into active service as Kingsman battles the radical environmentalist madman Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a Bondian baddie.

Raise your hand if you've seen a James Bond parody before. Um, right: chances are you couldn't count the ones you've seen with all your fingers and toes. Kingsman includes its own hilarious Bond mini-parody (kudos to actor Jack Davenport) embedded within its feature-length ode to British spy movies of the '60s, '70s and '80s, but the spy-flick pastiching feels long in the tooth here. Vaughn's oft-enjoyable fantasy has the benefit of what they say about New England weather: if you don't like it, wait five minutes. Besides an endearingly ass-kicking Firth and an amusingly lisping Jackson, we get erstwhile movie-spy Michael Caine as a spy boss, Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hamill as a professor in danger, and plenty of spectacular, though cartoony fight sequences (plus a jaw-dropping long take of digitally assisted parkour).

But for all its endearing British-ness, its halfhearted knocks on class snobbery, and its Tarantinoid self-referential "cool" (and, admittedly, for some, the latter will be enough), Kingsman lacks the freshness of Kick-Ass's subject and approach. The mayhem's not only exhausting, but, yes, tonally off-putting, as the at-least nominal sincerity of Vaughn's best efforts (count also the disciplined X-Men: First Class) takes a back seat to fetishized, glamorized violence.

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