I SPY

Released by Columbia Pictures, 2002
Starring Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, and Malcolm McDowell
Written by Marianne & Cormac Wibberly, David Ronn, and Jay Scherick
Directed by Betty Thomas
Rated PG-13. 96 minutes



It's been said that if you leave a million monkeys at a million typewriters long enough, you'll eventually get Shakespeare. If you leave just four of them at their typewriters, though, I image the result is something like I Spy: a train wreck of a film, predictable at every supposed turn, that is saved from the depths of oblivion only by the performances of its stars.

Alex Scott (Owen Wilson) is a second-rate spy working for the fictitious Bureau of National Security. After bungling an assignment at the beginning of the film, Scott is inexplicably given the task of getting back a super-secret jet stolen from the US government. The jet can render itself "invisible," and is the perfect delivery system for a weapon of mass destruction. It is to be sold in Budapest by international arms dealer Gundars (Malcolm McDowell). Convenient, McDowell is a big boxing fan, so the BNS uses the even-more convenient fact that middleweight champ Kelly Robinson (Eddy Murphy) will be fighting in Budapest around the time of the sale to enlist him as a civilian aide.

Fans of the TV series will note that Bill Cosby's pro athlete was named Alexander Scott, and that Robert Culp's secret agent was Kelly Robinson. However, in the uber-marketed 21st century, "Alex Scott" isn't a bankable boxing name, so the monikers were switched. The point is driven home by Robinson continually referring to himself in the third person. More on that later.

The gratuitous female agent, Rachel (Famke Janssen), is also working on the case. Robinson and Scott bicker constantly, but engage in enough male bonding through gadgetry that they're able to work together. There really isn't much more to the plot, except a series of swerves at the end that anyone can see coming. With a normal movie, I'd be worried about giving too much away, but I Spy gives itself away at every turn, and if you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Predictable stories aren't necessarily bad: Road To Perdition was excellent, despite the fact that its ending was apparent long before it happened. Unfortunately, everyone's seen enough second-rate spy films (and the writers of this one have obviously done their homework in that area) to know a stupid swerve when they see one. The only surprising thing about them was that the whole audience wasn't groaning when they were "revealed." Of course, the theatre being 10% full could account for that, also.

Murphy is his usual motor-mouthed self as Robinson. An aspect of the character that might have been unintentional is his dead-on satire of spoiled athletes and their entourages of sycophants. Despite the fact that he's playing a stereotype, Murphy manages to keep it entertaining. Wilson plays his straight man, and I guess going from Jackie Chan to Eddie Murphy is trading up the comic ladder. There's not much depth to his character at all. Janssen is basically reprising her role as Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye, and McDowell's performance is completely mailed-in. Given the script, I can hardly blame him.

In fact, Murphy and Wilson were the only two redeeming aspects of I Spy. The story was thin and the writing vapid, but Murphy and Wilson had enough chemistry to make all their scenes together watchable. From their initial frosty exchanges, to Murphy's turn as Cyrano de Bergerac while Wilson tried to woo the very woo-worthy Janssen, the two men meshed well on camera. They're walking down the same trail Mel Gibson and Danny Glover blazed years before, but that vibe is the best aspect of what is otherwise a lousy movie.

I Spy climbs to the lower rung of mediocrity based solely on the work of Murphy and Wilson. If you see it, see it to laugh at their wisecracks, and be ready to groan at the bad writing and the "surprises" you'll be able to call as if you'd read the insipid script yourself. 3.5/10

Dr. Tom
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