Published on June 1st, 2008 | by simeon0
I have often bemoaned in my reviews the shortage of new ideas in Hollywood, as many recent films seem to lack original ideas and seem to be more style than substance. I enjoy a good diversion film as much as the next person, and I know that there is a distinction between film entertainment and film art. That being said, I went into the new Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson vehicle “I Spy” with mixed expectations.
I knew the film would be a variation on the buddy cop formula as well as an updated version of the classic show that helped launch Bill Cosby’s career. On the other hand, I also knew that this was the type of film that was not likely to have a strong plot and complex characters with a well-written development arch, so my hopes were for a few good laughs and an acceptable story.
The movie begins in Eastern Europe with agent Alexander Scott (Owen Wilson), attempting to retrieve a pilot who has stolen and sold a highly advanced stealth aircraft. Things of course do not go as planned as Scott is able to obtain some information, yet is unable to save the pilot. Half the world away, brash boxing champ Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy), is vanquishing his latest foe enroute to a 57-0 record in the ring, and an unprecedented second fight just a few days later in Budapest with the European champ.
Scott is the polar opposite of the brazen and flashy Robinson, yet their paths are destined to cross with the safety of the free world in the balance. It seems that the missing fighter known as the “Switchblade” is being sold to the highest bidder by the insidious Mr. Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), to some of the most dangerous men on the planet. Naturally the idea of a rogue nation having a plane that is invisible to all forms of tracking as well as the human eye is unacceptable to the government so an agent is dispatched to get the plane back at all costs. With Suave super-agent Carlos (Gary Cole), unavailable for duty, the mission is given to Scott despite some misgivings from the top brass. Robinson is brought in to provide cover for Scott, as it is hoped that by acting as an assistant to the brash boxer, Scott can get what he needs from Gundars as he is hosting the big boxing event that is featuring Robinson.
Naturally Scott and Robinson clash but over time grow to understand and respect one another as they combine forces in an attempt to recover the plane and save the day. There in lies one of the biggest problems in the film. The plot for the film is very basic, and the story unfolds in a series of uninspired and hastily staged scenes that lack any cohesion and logic. There were some funny sequences in the film such as Scott and Robinson having a bonding moment in a sewer and the hilarious seduction of sexy agent Rachel (Famke Jensen), by a shy Scott as Robinson watches and advises via high tech surveillance gadgets, but the laughs are too few are far between. There was a plot twist in the film that I found very predictable as no sooner did an event happen than I was able to deduce where that storyline was going. There were also huge gaffs in the film such as two men staying the night in a sewer yet emerging with immaculate dress shirts and clothing, a character being able to change and get across town in just a few minutes, and my favorite, a vehicle being shot up and shown to be clearly leaking fuel being used during a crucial scene. I was reminded of a series of Saturday Night Lives sketches where the goal was to get Wilson and Murphy into certain scenarios to deliver a punch line while the rest of the plot was tossed in as filler.
Murphy and Wilson have some very good moments with one another and at times the film was very funny. Sadly the climax of the film was amazingly bad, and many scenes simply did not work. The script was credited to four writers and that is usually a sign that the script has some issues. Wilson is likeable as the able Scott who is jealous of the attention given to Carlos by his peers, and his desire from afar for Rachel is a nice twist on the usual over sexed spy types that are portrayed in film. Sadly there is not enough for the two leads to do and Murphy is forced to play the majority of his role in the loud and brash mode that made him a success in his earlier works such as 㦜 Hours” and “Trading Places” but has grown old especially when Murphy has shown that he is capable of so much more.
So where does that leave the film? Simply put “I Spy” is a film with some decent and at times very funny laughs that wastes the talents of a good cast by saddling them with a bad script that is devoid of anything fresh and abounds in continuity and ploy holes. The story is wide open for a sequel and while I would not mind seeing the great chemistry between Wilson and Murphy expanded upon in a future mission, I would hope that the twp leads would insist upon a better script to better showcase their talents. Save this one for a bargain matinee or better yet, a rental.
2 stars out of 5