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"KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE"
(2017) (Taron Egerton, Colin Firth) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: After most of their team is murdered, a small number of British secret agents join forces with their American counterparts in hopes of bringing down the ruthless leader of a drug cartel who's threatening the lives of millions of people if her demands are not met.
PLOT:
Having been trained by the apparently now deceased Harry Hart (COLIN FIRTH), Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (TARON EGERTON) is a full-fledged Kingsmen secret agent tasked with protecting the world, something he's kept secret from almost everyone he knows, except for his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (HANNA ALSTRÖM), whose parents are literal royalty. Following a violent run-in with a former but washed up Kingsmen trainee, Charlie Hesketh (EDWARD HOLCROFT), Eggsy goes to meet his girlfriend's parents, must contend with a missile assault that wipes out the Kingsmen headquarters and kills the rest of the agents save for Merlin (MARK STRONG).

Unbeknownst to them, their enemy is Poppy Adams (JULIANNE MOORE), a drug kingpin who runs the secret "The Golden Circle" organization from the jungles of Cambodia where she lives in a 1950s style compound and submits her new recruits, such as Angel (TOM BENEDICT KNIGHT), to a grisly initiation process. He, Charlie, a number of armed goons and two robotic guard dogs serve as her henchmen, and when she isn't forcing the kidnapped Elton John (ELTON JOHN) to play songs for her, she's come up with a nefarious plan.

By mixing and modifying her usual assortment of narcotics, she's created a drug that first gives its users blue veins and then causes them to dance uncontrollably before being frozen in paralysis and ultimately dying in a bloody fashion. Her plan is to blackmail the President of the United States (BRUCE GREENWOOD) into legalizing all drugs and thus increasing her profits, and only then will she release an antidote to save those infected with her deadly drug concoction.

With no other recourse, Eggsy and Merlin travel to Kentucky where they encounter their American counterparts who operate under the guise of a whiskey distillery run by Champagne (JEFF BRIDGES) who uses the likes of Agents Whiskey (PEDRO PASCAL) and Tequila (CHANNING TATUM) to keep order, all while Ginger Ale (HALLE BERRY) provides tech and medical support. That latter role ended up saving the life of Harry, although he's now suffering from amnesia and thus doesn't recognize Eggsy or Merlin. As they try to help him regain his memory and return to their team, they and their new American spy friends do what they can to find and stop Poppy before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In just a few weeks, the world will be marking the 20th anniversary of John Denver's far too early demise via a single fatality plane crash. And it's been nearly half a century since some of his more popular songs first hit the airwaves and emanated from styluses traveling through grooves on 45s and LPs.

Yet perhaps his most iconic song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" has now appeared in not one and not two, but three high-profile films of 2017 -- "Alien: Covenant," "Logan Lucky" and now "Kingsman: The Golden Circle."

While that makes sense for the Steven Soderbergh film as it's set in West Virginia, the space flick is a bit of a stretch in terms of expected use. But then again, so is having a character loudly belting that out while standing on a tripped landmine in a Cambodian jungle and awaiting his demise.

Yes, that occurs in this sequel to the similarly hyper-stylish and over-the-top action spy flick "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the 2015 offering that was sort of a James Bond and other British spy flick spoof while also being something unto itself entirely. But it's not the most outlandish musical element in this mostly satisfying if overlong sequel that takes up where the original left off.

No, that honor goes to Elton John who at first seems to be present as a one-off, jokey cameo appearance and then turns into an extended stay that delivers the laughs and proves, at least sort of, that Captain Fantastic can make just as believable a butt-kicking action figure as the first did with Colin Firth.

The last time we saw him in this series, Samuel L. Jackson's villainous character put a bullet in his character's head, seemingly meaning he'd only show up in flashback scenes here. But the returning writers at hand -- Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman -- came up with a way to bring back Firth and his on-screen alter-ego so that he could join his cohort (Mark Strong) and former protégé (Taron Egerton) in dealing with yet another global crisis.

This time, that stems from Julianne Moore playing the head honcho of the world's biggest drug cartel who's come up with a unique plan to push forward the implementation of making all street drugs legal. All while living in a fabricated, 1950s style mini-town complete with all the usual trappings of that era, including an industrial meat grinder that she puts to good use while initiating new members to her titular organization.

With her having wiped out the rest of the Kingsmen organization and headquarters, the survivors end up joining forces with their American counterparts -- the Statesmen -- who operate out of a Kentucky distillery rather than a London haberdashery. They're comprised of, among others, their leader (Jeff Bridges), a cowpoke (Channing Tatum), the brains behind the scenes (Halle Berry) and an apparent 1970s era Burt Reynolds wannabe (Pedro Pascal) who's quite handy with a technologically enhanced lasso.

What follows is pretty much what made up the original -- spy film spoofery and other comedy, hard-hitting and hyper-stylized action, good chemistry between the characters, and more than enough cussing, ultra-violent fighting and more to earn its R rating and then some.

While it could have benefited from some judicious editing to remove some of the film's extraneous minutes (it clocks in at 141, twelve longer than its predecessor), director Vaughn keeps thing moving forward at a brisk enough pace that if you enjoyed the first offering, you'll likely have the same reaction here.

Especially if you have a hankering for watching a certain 70-year-old rocker, dressed in one of his signature 1970s era concert costumes, kick some villainous butt. Pretty much entertaining from start to finish, but certainly not for all audiences, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 18, 2017 / Posted September 22, 2017


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