Once again the Hollywood Remake Machine™ cranks it wheels to spew forth another film or TV series. Some turn out to be huge successes such as Mission: Impossible and others fall into the same category as The Beverley Hillbillies. This time, Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson replace Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in a film version of the 1965 TV series I Spy.
The plot is simple enough; Owen Wilson is Special Agent Alexander Scott, who after a semi-successful mission is required to track down a missing super jetfighter code named Switchblade. The chief suspect is Arnold Gundars (Malcolm McDowell) who lives in an impenetrable mansion in Budapest and it seems that the only way to get Scott into the place is with the help of professional boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy). Luckily Gundars is a huge boxing fan and seeing that Robinson’s next fight is in Budapest, he is invited to a party at Gundars house. This party is also a front to allow the world’s terrorists to bid for the stolen fighter plane.
In addition to the difficulties inherent to the mission, such as dealing with international terrorists, Scott has also to deal with the loud and brash Robinson. Other things that plague Scott are his inability to confess his crush on a fellow agent Rachel (Famke Janssen) and the fact that all the cooler, sleeker gadgets seem to go to a fellow super-agent Carlos (Gary Cole), while he’s left with the clunky, larger left-over gadgets.
With his inferiority complex against Carlos in hand, Scott with the assistance of Robinson has just 72 hours to stop Gundars selling the Switchblade to a terrorist organisation and retrieve the plane. It would probably be a lot easier if Scott and Robinson didn’t spend most of their time arguing.
I Spy bares almost no resemblance to the TV show bar the fact that the two leads are black and white. Strange why the film makes took the Bill Cosby character, which was the well educated Rhodes Scholar and also the real spy in the TV show and changed him to a loud brash boxing champion and yet still keep the name of Robert Culp’s character.
Performance wise, the two leads play very well off each other and have some very funny moments together, most notably, when Robinson is pouring out his heart to Scott in the sewers of Budapest and a superb rendition of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing as a wooing method for Scott – courtesy of Robinson’s advice in an ear piece. Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson’s chemistry works well because of the huge difference in their acting styles and characters, with Murphy louder and brasher than ever and Wilson calm and soothing voiced as always. Neither is a stranger to the buddy-buddy genre, with both having independently teamed up with various stars previously. Famke Jannsen is gorgeous as always and does a good job of being the love interest. Gary Cole is very funny (whether that’s unintentionally or not is debateable) as Carlos, who comes across as a cheap Antonio Banderas. Malcolm McDowell is wasted as the villain and that’s a real shame seeing that he could have taken the role so much further.
Directed by Betty Thomas, I Spy leaves behind the TV shows intelligent and non-gadget laden roots and thrusts them into a more slapstick, action orientated version packed with gadgets and explosions. The actions scenes are very unimaginative and quite frankly borderline dull. Thomas relies on her stars chemistry to get the audience over the action side of things too much and just uses them to carry the film from one funny scene to the next. This reliance is more evident as the villain is such a weak character.
Overall I Spy is an enjoyable enough romp into the lighter side of the spy world and is entertaining enough as a relatively short film. The leads carry more than their fair share of the film whose only nostalgia is in the title. Hopefully the Hollywood Remake Machine™ will slow down a bit and we will be spared The A-Team movie (with Mel Gibson as Hannibal) which was rumoured to be next in line for the TV show to big screen treatment.
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