Like My Fair Lady, but for slow learners

Kingsman: The Secret Service (16)

Colin Firth as an action hero? Who next – Dustin Hoffman? Jack Nicholson? Firth is Harry Hart, aka Galahad, an agent for a top secret organisation. We first see him in flashback 17 years ago having his life saved by a fellow agent in the Middle East. Back in the present (and no, he doesn’t really look 17 years older) he wants to reward the hero’s son, Eggsy.

One of the precepts in this self-congratulatory lampoon of espionage thrillers is that James Bond movies are only as good as their villains. On that score this is base gold indeed because Samuel L. Jackson is the man who wants to (yawn) destroy the planet. (If you want to see Jackson as a credible villain, check out Lakeview Terrace).

For one thing he has a lisp. Okay, so Michael Caine (who also appears here) got away with wearing glasses in the Harry Palmer series but such anti-macho signals walk a tightrope in these kinds of high-tech actioners.

Taron Egerton comes across as a kind of blander version of Ewan McGregor as the wild young lad Firth wants to take away, Jeremy Kyle style, from the council flats where he seems destined for a life of crime.

He helps him become a spy like his dad so for the next two hours (which is about an hour too long) we watch him go through the gruelling routines demanded to become a ‘kingsman’, i.e. practising life-threatening tasks and trading in his preferred casual clothing for a sharp suit in his attempt to become, well, a knight in shining Armani.

Does he succeed in saving the planet? I can’t tell you that but the climax of the film reminded me of the mushroom cloud we saw at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. Matthew Vaughn, alas, is no Stanley Kubrick, and his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style direction seems more appropriate to a very violent cartoon. (Kingsman started life as a Marvel comic.)

We have to have violence in films just as we have it in life.

The problems start when it’s trivialised (a phenomenon started by people like Quentin Tarantino) or glorified. This film is guilty on both of these counts. It wants to be a joke on Bond but ends up just being one on itself.

The main ingredients of the trademark Bond film are here, though, right down to the lady who can cut you with the blades in her footwear (remember Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love?) but it’s been souped up to the nth degree. In the end it becomes an uneasy amalgam of My Fair Lady (the Svengali theme), Monty Python (the manic iconoclasm) and Eastenders (the working class drama).

Will we one day see Kingsman: The Video Game? Or Kingsman: The Animated Movie? Maybe this is here already.

The cert says you have to be over 16 to see it but its intellectual level makes me wonder if Hollywood shouldn’t start a new classification saying ‘No Admission Over 16’. It’s a bit like the term ‘adult movies’, many of which are juvenile in their approach.