I-Spy

2002, Movie, PG-13, 96 mins

Review

I-SPY
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This passable action comedy, based tenuously on a TV series that was one of the great icons of '60s cool, stars Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy as, respectively, slightly nerdy American spy-guy Alexander Scott and middleweight boxer Kelly Robinson, a civilian recruited for a secret mission by President Bush (no less). Robinson joins the less-than-thrilled Scott in pursuit of the Switchblade, a prototype stealth fighter that's been stolen by nefarious black-market arms dealer Arnold Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), who also dabbles as a boxing promoter. Gundars is staging a championship between Robinson and the reigning European title holder in Budapest; the plan is that Scott will tag along, pretending to be Robinson's assistant, and the odd-couple agents will find the Switchblade before Gundars can sell it to some rogue terrorist with access to nuclear weapons. Along the way, they encounter sexy American spy Rachel (Famke Janssen), with whom Scott is understandably smitten; get chased around Budapest by the usual Eurotrash bad guys in black suits; and finally recover the plane in a climactic shoot-out during which everybody's loyalties come into question. There are also two fairly funny, non-action set pieces that provide a welcome respite from the otherwise wall-to-wall gunplay. The first finds Scott and Robinson male-bonding by virtue of mind-altering methane gas in the Budapest sewers; the second is a sort of Marvin Gaye-inspired version of Cyrano de Bergerac, where Robinson walks Scott through an attempted seduction of Rachel with the aid of some super-cool spy gizmos. Nothing about this movie is terribly fresh; director Betty Thomas does keep things moving fairly efficiently, but the overall effect is mostly MISSION IMPOSSIBLE lite. Fans of the original TV show will also be disappointed by the massive changes in the premise. In the series, Rhodes Scholar Scott (Bill Cosby) and professional tennis player Robinson (Robert Culp), whose globe-trotting competition schedule provided the pair with their cover, were a far more matched pair; they were hipster sophisticates with identical senses of humor. The real problem with the new film, however, is a certain lack of chemistry between the leads; Wilson is game, as always, but his part is seriously underwritten, and while Murphy raises trash talking to the level of a fine art, he seems to be operating in another movie altogether. And why was a hyphen added to the hyphen-less title of the TV show? leave a comment --Steve Simels

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