Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Mike Dopud | Directed by: Betty Thomas | Produced by: Betty Thomas, Jenno Topping, Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna | Written by: Cormac Wibberly, Marianne Wibberley, Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Ronald Bass, Robert Harling, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberly | Distributor: Columbia Pictures
In this early November, 2002 release, a secret government agency recruits an infamous sports star to thwart the efforts of glamorous international terrorists in an exotic Eastern European location. “Hey,” you’re thinking, “didn’t you guys already cover “Triple X”?” Well, yes, except the movie on the dissection table this week is “I Spy.” And there’s one major difference between it and “xXx”: I Spy’s actually a pretty good movie.
Those of you who pay attention to the opinions of major film pundits are probably wondering, “Wait a minute, I thought most critics called that plot laughably implausible.” Right, and that’s exactly the point in “I Spy.” While it’s not a strait spoof like “Austin Powers”, neither does it take itself as seriously as a 007. Instead, “I Spy” walks the fine line between spectacle-laden action and outright comedy. And lets face it, the corny dialogue and story lines in typical buddy-action flicks are a hair’s breadth away from farce anyway--“I Spy” (like the best of the genre) just takes it one step further by admitting it.
In a slight reversal from the 60’s television show, Owen Wilson plays an insecure secret agent who is less than thrilled at being paired up with obnoxious middleweight champ, Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy). Wilson and Murphy have great comic chemistry, and some of their funniest scenes feel like they may have been unscripted. Backing the duo up are sparkling performances by Famke Jansen as a seductive she-spy and the always underrated Gary Cole as Carlos, the latin-lover spy. Cole (much beloved by college students in such roles as Mike Brady in “The Brady Bunch Movie” and obnoxious boss Lumbergh in “Office Space”) is one of those rare character actors who consistently turns in superb, widely varying performances, leaving the audience whispering, “Where do I know that guy from?”
Another unique plus about this film is the way it skewers the polished spy persona. Instead of being dangerous and debonair, Wilson is openly love sick and a little clumsy. Not to mention he’s insanely jealous of another super-spy, something James Bond would never admit to.
This is not to say “I Spy” is a perfect movie—it does include a couple of tired bits and one gratuitous woman-in-her-underwear shot, but its endearing loopiness sets it squarely ahead of the pack. However, my biggest complaint against “I Spy” is, as always, the language. Its even more disappointing in this film because, without it, “I Spy” could have been a great family action movie. So few movie’s are capable of entertaining everyone from Mom and Dad to Bro and Sis, and while this film never could’ve been an Oscar winner, it could have provided families a fun evening out together …something a little hard to come by these days. If you have older teens, you might still make a go of it, but otherwise I’d wait for the edited TV version.