It seems as though spy comedies are here to stay. And that’s not all bad – it’s just that they can’t decide what they want to be.I Spy is the latest in a growing list of spy shows from the 1960-70s that have been adapted to film (Charlie’s Angels, The Avengers, Mission: Impossible, et al).
One characteristic of this genre appears to be movie personality disorder. It is part of the problem that faces these movies that set out to please all and sometimes miscast along the way.
Here, Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson fill the one-time shoes of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp from the 1960s sitcom.
Wilson, known for quirky roles in such Wes Anderson movies as Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums, doesn’t seem the immediate choice for an action movie. But the choice to cast him seems like an attempt to draw in a younger, hipper crowd. Wilson plays Alex Scott, an underdog special agent who wants to be a hero but always ruins everything. He’s characterized as a wimp – he runs to put ice in his mouth because his coffee is too hot. He’s afraid to tell his love interest he’s interested. He doesn’t get the high tech gadgets all the other spies get.
Wilson is funny and satisfying in the role, despite several odd cuts at the end of his scenes. In a few spots, the scene ends when Wilson is about to open his mouth to speak.
Murphy, on the other hand, plays Wilson’s polar opposite, World Class Boxing Champion Kelly Robinson, who is recruited by the U.S. government to help Alex recover a stolen stealth fighter.
Murphy does a lot of rambling and talking too fast that is supposed to be funny but often isn’t. Murphy plays to a crowd used to more over-the-top humor.
The pair work nicely together. Murphy lends energy to Wilson’s dryer humor. The funniest scenes in the movie involve Murphy, Wilson and an eyepiece that allows Murphy to see through Wilson’s eyes. Murphy sees himself and starts to talk to himself in an egotistical diatribe.
All the sophisticated gadgets are there. The explosions are there. The beautiful woman is there, played by X-Men’s Famke Janssen. The evil rich guy with lots of money. It’s all there.
The problem with the movie is that one minute, it expects the audience to believe it all. The next minute, it wants the audience to laugh at it. For instance, Wilson blows up a car to escape the bad guys. Then he immediately jokes about the fact that he isn’t respected as a secret agent because the size of his explosions were too small.
It’s trying to appease both the people who want to see something funny and those who want to see things explode.
Though this may make an uneven, confused film, it does have wide-ranging entertainment value. It just goes to show, with the Charlie’s Angels sequel coming out next summer, the indecisive comedies are here to stay.
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‘I Spy’ opens Friday and is rated PG-13.