Super Spy is an extremely independent comedy spoof on James Bond (although, it seems to give more nods to Pulp Fiction), the concept being, what if James Bond were black (and looked exactly like Samuel Jackson)? At the same time, it's a movie within a movie, within a dream, within a movie within a dream that's being made into a movie—or something like that. Sound confusing? Good. Then you get the picture about this picture.
Screenwriter/director/star A.J. Jamal plays a struggling screenplay writer who is determined to make a movie with the help of some friends and a budget of practically zero dollars. Um…It comes across as if this movie was the true story of making this movie. Anyway, the basic plot is, while filming a no budget action flick, the team accidentally films a real crime being committed, and is soon being hunted down by the evil gang of criminals. Unless that was all a dream….
So what is all this talk of dreaming? Well, in Tarantino style, this movie often progresses out of sequence, or so it seems. Lead character A.J. Jamal is at times dreaming of what is supposed to happen in his movie that he's making. At other times, he's actually filming the scenes, but we don't always know that it's not one of his dreams. At yet other times, he is imagining the scenes while writing his script. And finally, the film crew is filming what A.J.'s character was dreaming, but are suddenly in the spotlight, for they are being hunted by the group of criminals they filmed. And this vicious cycle gets the viewer wondering—what is the actual plot of this movie?
Then there's the comedy they forgot to include. This movie just is not funny at all. There are some times when a line was delivered and I was like, "that could be a really funny line," but for some reason, it just was not delivered right in this film. The spoofing of Bond and Tarantino is just not funny. The references to other movies for all the film buffs are just not funny. The slapstick moments are not funny. It's all tragic, really. There was potential, but nothing potent.
Yet, here's where I ran into a dilemma. For as terribly bad as this film is, and not even bad enough to be so bad it is campy good, I couldn't stop watching. In all honestly, the opening scene of the movie actually grabbed my interest with a promise of being a real comedy mystery, but then the whole movie within a movie/dream thing was introduced, and the muddled mess just made me scratch my head. But I kept watching. I think this is the best way to put it. Imagine a group of youngsters, say eleven years old, spent their entire summer coming up with this idea, wrote a script, grabbed their home video camera, got everyone on the block to play a part, and then acted out their script in various locations around their houses (usually until one mother got tired of having them around and then sent them off to bother another mother). After it was all done, they excitedly popped the finished product into a VCR to show all the grownups. And as one of the grownups, you were amazed at what vivid imaginations the kids had, and how incredibly dedicated they were to putting their little film together, and as you told them what a great job they did in order to boost their morale, you said to yourself, "In ten years, at least one of these kids is going to be in film school and might just make it." Well, that's exactly how I felt watching Super Spy. Like one day, one of these kids is going to make a real movie.
Having just been all metaphorical and poetic with my little "what if" anecdote, I can promise you, I would not have watched this film all the way through if I hadn't agreed to review it.
Bad. Bad. Bad. First off, the movie is presented in full screen a 1:33:1 aspect ratio. It looks like this film was made in 1972, and it is the original print you are watching now. The picture is sprinkled with specks and flecks and flaws throughout. The lighting is often really bad, halo effects are blaring, the picture is wickedly grainy (very 1972), particularly in the black areas during darker scenes, and the colors are terribly bland. Other than that…well, there is no other than that.
The film is presented in Dolby 4.0. No center speaker! This is going to freak you out if you turn off the volume on your TV and crank up the home theater system. The voices don't come from the characters' mouths. But the dialogue is all around you, which I guess is a plus if you want a real trippy experience. The best sound quality in the movie comes from the hip hoppin' soundtrack. Other than that, there's a weird hollowness in the middle of the room (you know, right where you are sitting). There is occasionally beneficial use of left to right sound traveling according to what's happening on the screen, and the subwoofer response is pretty booming, but I can't overlook that void hovering over my couch.
Yikes. Where to begin?
There's a trailer for the film that has worse video quality than the movie, and actually makes the movie less entertaining than it really was.
There are two more trailers for movies you've never heard of, and will most likely never want to see.
There is an actual standup concert by writer/director/leading man A.J. Jamal (approximately 50 minutes). It looks and sounds like a bootleg by some fan who illegally snuck a forbidden camcorder into the show. Perhaps A.J. had the camera confiscated by a bouncer and kept the tape—and then used the camera to film his movie? Whenever the camera cuts to audience reaction, it seriously looks like they interspersed clips from some home video show audience. Even so, canned laughter or not, he's actually a pretty funny comedian with some good material. I particularly laughed when he began to do this imitation of a flaming, flamboyant homosexual…but he didn't act any different than he had been the moment before. He's not exactly the most masculine comedian I've ever seen….
Audio commentary—well, A.J. and one of his cast members, Yule Spenser, spend the whole movie pointing out, and laughing at, the lack of continuity and holes in the plot, and A.J. even confesses how people have expressed being bewildered as to when it was a dream and when it was real—and insists he's fine with that (as if that were his intention). Oh yeah. They also do exactly what I did…they repeatedly admit how funny certain parts are supposed to be, yet said moments just seemed to go over the heads of the audience. Yet, they seem incredibly proud of the finished product.
Super Spy is intended to be a comic "what if James Bond was black" movie about a cast and crew of nobodies filming a disastrous "what if James Bond was black" film. In this case, the script is the spitting image of the reality. A valiant effort, but unfunny and completely convoluted.