I Spy
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // November 1, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 2, 2002
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The Movie:

Betty Thomas has proven herself to be a gifted director of comedy. "The Brady Bunch Movie" had the right material and she provided the right tone and timing. Howard Stern's movie, "Private Parts", had heart and fine storytelling. Thomas and star Eddie Murphy even made "Dr. Dolittle" into something more than the material would suggest. Unfortunately, "I Spy", where Thomas has to handle both action and laughs, hardly delivers any memorable action and only occasionally gets laughs out of what seem more like improvised situations.

The film, based on a TV series which few of this generation probably know of, stars Owen Wilson as Alex Scott, a spy rising in the ranks of the organization. He's paired up with civilian Kelly Robinson (Murphy), an ego-driven 58-0 boxer. Robinson's next fight is in Budapest, which is where the film's villian (Malcolm McDowell, who's in all of about two scenes) is about to sell off a stolen jet plane that can turn invisible. McDowell's character is a boxing fan, so Murphy's character will provide Wilson's a perfect opening to take the plane back.

Of course, things don't go as planned, leading the two to have their cover blown and run in a few rather mediocre chase scenes. Although Thomas is working with a remarkably skilled cinematographer (Oliver Wood, "Bourne Identity" - in fact, if it's still playing around, definitely go see that film instead of this one), she can't seem to get the action to not seem primitive (I mean, it's a spy movie) and second-rate. An action-driven finale is handled in especially awkward fashion, with so many flip-flops and bad twists that the characters voice their confusion on who's on which side. I would have voiced my confusion, too, but by this point I'd essentially stopped caring.

Thankfully, the comedy works a little better. Murphy and Wilson occasionally seem to be fighting for the jokes, but when they work together well (a scene where they're waiting out bad guys in a sewer and talking about their pasts), they're amusing. Famke Janssen, playing Wilson's co-spy and love interest, has little to do, as does Gary Cole ("Office Space") as a spy who gets better gadgets than Wilson's. McDowell is hardly a villian, although to give him credit, there's hardly much of the character, either.

Still, there's an overwhelming sense of been here, seen this (and seen it done a whole lot better) about "I Spy". There's nothing particularly fresh about its story or presentation; it's just another buddy-action picture, done with even less inspiration than many that have come before it.

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