KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE – To prove my theory that mediocre writing can irreparably damage the foundation of an otherwise decent movie, I offer you this sequel to the 2015 British spy romp as Exhibit A. The covert, elite intelligence agency is literally reduced to rubble when “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton) and technical expert Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only survivors of an attack by a female, stuck in the ‘50s, drug cartel operator (Julianne Moore) hidden away in a Cambodian jungle. You know, when someone matching that description can wipe out nearly all your ops, you may be in the wrong profession. It’s all part of Moore’s (STILL ALICE) plan to legalize all global drug sales by contaminating recreational users of her “product” with potentially fatal toxins. Hey, nothing like killing your customer base while cutting into your illicit profit margins to help “up” the bottom line of your business. And don’t get me started on the storyline surrounding Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) resurrection after being shot in the eye in the last movie. All I’ll say is that it’s related to retrograde amnesia accompanied with the sort of lame explanation that’ll make Firth (THE KING’S SPEECH) want to forget that he signed on for this film. The trio connect with counterparts in Kentucky who work under the cover of operating a whisky distillery and generally reinforce American South stereotypes of being gun-crazy rednecks. Don’t get me wrong. There are some nifty close-quarter fights, creative gunplay, a cool out of control gondola sequence in the Swiss Alps and a cartoonishly entertaining car chase through London. But even watching these scenes left me with the impression of a self-conscious work channeling 007 movies of yore. There are liberal amounts of what I call “stunt” casting with the likes of Jeff Bridges (See CLOSING CREDITS.), Halle Berry (MONSTER’S BALL), Channing Tatum (FOXCATCHER) and Elton John (TOMMY), as himself, who are making what amount to cameos that are either pointless or just plain bizarre. If its’ predecessor was good, bloody fun, that same “joie de vivre” feels absent and forced in this follow-up. It’s reminiscent of my father on my childhood vacations admonishing us that “we’re going to have fun if it kills us”. CRITIC’S GRADE: C+

CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some far better movies starring Jeff Bridges who probably regrets being in KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, too. – THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)*, BAD COMPANY (1972), FAT CITY (1972), THE ICEMAN COMETH (1973), THE LAST AMERICAN HERO (1973), THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974), HEARTS OF THE WEST (1975), RANCHO DELUXE (1975), STAY HUNGRY (1976), STARMAN (1984)**, TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), THE FISHER KING (1991), FEARLESS (1993), WHITE SQUALL (1996), THE CONTENDER (2000)*, SEABISCUIT (2003), CRAZY HEART (2009)***, TRUE GRIT (2010)**, HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)*

*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor

**Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor

***Academy Award Winner for Best Actor