NEW YORK (CNS) — Those old enough to have lived through the disco era may recall a song by the pop group Boney M. the refrain of which began: "Ra, Ra, Rasputin/Lover of the Russian queen."

While the lyrics may have contained a groundless libel on the memory of the last tsarina — who probably had eyes only for her Nicky — the tune was at least thoroughly danceable.

Alas, no such redeeming artistic merit can be found in the action flick "The King's Man" (20th Century). For the emotions on display are just as false as the deliriously dumb alternate history that drives the film's plot. Additionally, the ethical stance the picture adopts toward violence is so inconsistent as to be almost paradoxical.

This is both the third installment of, and an origins story for, the franchise adapted from the comic book "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons that kicked off in 2014. It begins at the turn of the 20th century, but is mostly set on the eve of — and during — World War I.

In the earlier era, Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) promises his dying wife, Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara), that he will shield their young son Conrad (Alexander Shaw) from the darker aspects of life. Flash forward to the days leading up to the assassinations in Sarajevo and Orlando is, as a result, proving an overprotective father to the now-grown lad (Harris Dickinson).

This tendency becomes even more irksome to Conrad once the global conflict breaks out and Dad repeatedly denies him permission to enlist. Orlando eventually loosens up enough, however, to reveal to Conrad his hidden career as a spy, and the duo become partners in undercover work.

They go up against a shadowy gang of international conspirators, the most prominent member of which is — yes, you guessed it — the mad monk himself, Grigori Rasputin (Rhys Ifans). They're aided by Con-rad's former nanny, Polly (Gemma Arterton), and by Orlando's faithful bodyguard, Shola (Djimon Hounsou).

Returning director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn, who helmed and helped pen both previous features, reins in the graphic mayhem of those outings to some degree. But the script he wrote in collaboration with Karl Gajdusek strikes a consistently wrong note in depicting the central relationship.

There is something to be said for watching Ifans work himself up into a frenzy during which he seems as likely to chew on his fellow cast members as on the scenery. But the fact that Orlando willingly plays on Rasputin's supposed attraction to young men to turn Conrad into sexual bait in a bid to distract the malignant mystic — whom the screenplay wrongly identifies as a priest — is distasteful.

The narrative veers, moreover, between an anti-war message and a climactic approval of the illegitimate use of force that leaves its morals thoroughly muddled. Mature discernment is required to assess such disorder, and only those well grounded in their faith should get on board this carnival ride of distorted and caricatured past events. The rewards of doing so, however, are few.

The film contains confused values, much harsh and sometimes gory violence, gruesome images, scenes of sensuality, references to homosexuality, at least one instance each of profanity and milder swearing as well as intermittent rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.