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I SPY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole
Director: Betty Thomas
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2003

“This is your spy cam.”

“THIS is Carlos’ spy cam and THIS is my spy cam? Look at the size of this thing! Size matters, but in the spy world, it’s reverse. You want people to say ‘Look how small, sexy, and sleek this is’…not ‘HOW HUGE THIS IS, look what I just pulled out of his pants, it’s huge.’ People will laugh at me if they pull this out. Is that his escape module?”

“Yes, it is. I know, everyone wants to be like Carlos.”

“Well, I don’t want to BE like Carlos, but I can’t help noticing that my stuff looks like you can get it at Radio Shack in 1972.”

Film ***

I have never seen a single episode of the I Spy television series, but two factors helped me in wanting to see the movie. First, the pairing of Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson sold me instantly, and secondly, as it turns out, I didn’t have to be too familiar with the TV show since the movie version has very little to do with it, other than the names of the two lead characters. So this, for me, this was an easy movie for me to enjoy, much because of the endless energy displayed by Murphy and Wilson, two of my favorite comedic stars. We’ve seen Murphy play in the buddy genre countless times, most recently in the not-so successful Showtime, but here he delivers one of his funniest performances to date, and provides a perfect match to Wilson’s pitch-perfect straight man dry humor.

The movie gets off to a good start with a riot of an opening which has fun with location subtitles, as we meet special agent Alex Scott (Wilson), who appreciates the title since he got promoted to “special agent” around Christmas time. Scott is handed down a top secret assignment, which is to recover a secret military weapon known as the Switch Blade. It’s a state of the art aircraft with invisible capabilities. It’s fallen into the hands of a ruthless arms dealer named Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), who bought the plane on the black market, and plans to sell for an even bigger price. Scott also learns that he will be working with a civilian on the mission, that of boxing heavyweight hotshot Kelly Robinson (Murphy).

Robinson is a loudmouth self-promoter, who holds a record of 57-0, going on 58-0. His next fight is to take place in Budapest, where Gundars, a known boxing fanatic, will no doubt be attending. This makes Robinson the perfect cover man, though Scott finds him to be the most difficult part of the mission, as he finds the boxing superstar’s attitude and picky demands to be somewhat irritating. Nonetheless, Robinson is soon shifted into cover mode, as he and Scott are plunged into one catastrophic event after another.

One of the movie’s downright best touches is the way it shows Alex, an agent who’s capable of getting the job done, having to deal with the crappy spy equipment he is supplied for the mission. Imagine if you had seen a recent Bond movie and you dreamt of getting all the ultra cool gadgets that make the mission more worthwhile, only to be supplied with a “micro” tracking device that equals the size of a Beta cassette tape, and a “spy camera” so big you would have to acquire the use of one whole hand. Alex is a top agent, though he isn’t as respected as Carlos (Gary Cole, with a touch of Latin love), who is known by all as a true super-spy, and gets all the cool spy gear, some of which Alex swipes for his assignment.

This past year wasn’t too kind to Eddie Murphy. He had a total of three movies released in 2002, which also included Showtime and deservedly trashed The Adventures of Pluto Nash. I Spy, though it didn’t seem to garner many good reviews or big box office glory, is definitely worthy of the comedy superstar’s talent. I’ve always found Murphy to be at his pure best when he plays fast-talking show-offs, as demonstrated in Life and Bowfinger, and his Kelly Robinson, who constantly refers to himself in the third person, ranks right up there with his most masterful comic performances. Murphy never runs out of energy in I Spy, which is a must-see for any fan of Murphy’s who may have been let down by any of his most recent work. Aside from his comic antics, Murphy also did his own boxing in the movie.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star delivers their unbeatable best once again with this stellar presentation. The anamorphic picture never lets down for a second, taking advantages of the lavish set pieces, common in the spy genre, even for a comedy. This is picture clarity at its best, with the image rendering crisp and clear without any noticeable flaws, and making the most of the natural colors, as well. A Full Screen version is also included on this dual layered disc.

Audio ***1/2

Action comedies tend to always promise a terrific sounding disc, and I Spy is just such a case. The 5.1 mix provides knockout sound quality in just about every aspect, from crowded sequences like several boxing sequences, and the frequent action numbers, such as an extended chase sequence in midtown Budapest, deliver the expected sound boom.

Features ***

Not exactly Special Edition-caliber, but what is offered on the disc is certainly more than acceptable. Included is a commentary track with director Betty Thomas, 4 making-of featurettes; “Cloak and Camouflage”, “Gadgets and Gizmos”, “Schematics and Blue Prints”, and “The Slugfest”, and Bonus Trailers for Adaptation, Blue Streak, Formula 51, National Security, and Punch-Drunk Love.

Summary:

Though it may not satisfy devotees of the television series, I Spy is a definitive action comedy blast, showcasing the comic talents of Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, making it something of a crowd-pleasing escapist fare.