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‘Kingsman’ a bloody fun spy send-up

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service”

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson

Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content

Grade: B

Very little about “Kingsman: The Secret Service” sounds fun — based on its title, you might think it’s a sword and chainmail epic set in the same period as “Seventh Son.” But, instead, “Kingsman” finds director Matthew Vaughn giving James Bond the “Kick-Ass” treatment.

Kingsman” is a conglomeration of Vaughn’s last two movies. Much like his 2008 superhero comedy “Kick-Ass,” Vaughn adapts another comic book (2012’s “The Secret Service,” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) into an extremely bloody, madcap screen product, while also honoring the “back to school” feel of 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” 

This mashup is wildly fun, even if it falls into some of the same traps as movies that it’s cheekily imitating.

Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a secret agent who’s more Q than James Bond — if Q could clear a whole room of 100 bad guys by himself. Soon after the film opens, one of Harry’s fellow agents is brutally slain. To honor his legacy, he gives the agent’s son a distinguished medal — which ends up becoming a literal Get Out of Jail Free card when the boy later gets into some more grown-up trouble with the law. 

Once out of jail, the son (Taron Egerton), branded with the unfortunate nickname of “Eggsy,” receives an invitation to the Kingsman training program from Harry.

Kingsman works under the guise of a London tailor shop (as if MI6 was operating out of a Brooks Brothers store), and, after touring the shop, Harry takes Eggsy to a rural training academy for prospective Kingsman agents. It looks a lot like Professor X’s academy from the “X-Men” series, but, instead of fighting superhuman mutants, they’re preparing to take on diabolical humans, such as Raymond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, in his 110th screen role). Valentine’s an evil-Steve-Jobs-type — a tech tycoon hell-bent on giving everyone a SIM card that provides “free phone calls and free Internet … forever!” The SIM cards also turn its users into bloodthirsty savages on Valentine’s command, so the Kingsmen have their work cut out for them.

“Kingsman” works best as a slick, stylish action farce. Much like he proved in “Kick-Ass,” Vaughn is a master of the claustrophobic and hyperactive fight scene. He elegantly films Firth — a surprisingly competent action star — cleaning out entire rooms of enemies. Vaughn makes sure that the camera pulses after every last blow and whips around the room to draw a schematic of the battleground. It’s a far bloodier battleground than most action flicks, with foes fielding explosive stab and gunshot wounds all over their bodies — including a startling cleave-in-half within the film’s early minutes.

The extreme violence might feel grotesque if “Kingsman” didn’t consistently bring the laughs, but it’s a weightless, snappy action-comedy. There’s a humorous urgency to the Kingsmen’s training process, which includes the team nearly drowning in their bedroom, skydiving under the belief that one prospective agent doesn’t have a parachute and Harry’s absurd explanation of the agency’s gadgets (smart phones are just smart phones — the technology’s caught up to spy standards). But some lines between farce and straightforward action turn into a sloppy blur.

Jackson gives one of his career-worst performances as Valentine, who amounts to a way over-the-top Bond villain caricature. It’s as one-dimensional and ridiculous as most of his recent work, but, this time, Jackson tries on a horribly exaggerated lisp that grows old after his second sentence.

During the final third of “Kingsman,” multiple characters make self-aware references that they’re “not in that kind of action movie.” But its big finale becomes so muddled and ridiculous — while honoring an action fan’s sense of satisfying closure — that it does become “that kind of action movie.” Hopefully Vaughn won’t make any promises he can’t keep in “Kingsman 2.” 

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‘Kingsman’ a bloody fun spy send-up