|Let me tell you about one of my all time favorite TV Shows... It lasted for a mere three years in the late sixties and featured one of the first racially integrated (and equal) casts and featured a fight against evil with skill and technology every week. No, I'm not talking about Star Trek but good guess. I'm talking about I Spy starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as two ass kicking secret agent working for God and Country to make the world safe for Democracy. Culp played Kelly Robinson, a famed Tennis Pro enlisted by the Government to work with Cosby's Alexander Scott, a proficient Language expert and super-spy! Not only was I Spy ground breaking, establishing more leading roles for African Americans on TV and helping to give rise to the "Buddy Comedy" but it was an excellent show in it's own right. It was funny, action packed, edgy and thrilling. It's a classic not to be missed.
So, when I heard that Columbia Pictures was coming out with a film based on I Spy I was ready to cheer like Kirsten Dundst in Bring It On! Unfortunately for me, and for the millions of fans out there dying to see me in a mini skirt and Pom-Poms... I Spy the film is an experiment in inept adaptations equal to crapping on Culp and Cosby's lawns on Thanksgiving! It blows like the Santa Ana winds. I've seen chest wounds that sucked less (look, not even light can escape it) and I've seen piranhas that bit less. Look, I know that 2002 seems to be the year for bad spy movies. We saw the colon perforating Austin Powers in Goldmember, the cheese sandwich on rye known as xXx, and even 2002's James Bond Entry was about on the par with the final season of Ellen! I guess that Hollywood figured that the Spy Genre was fair game, so they should pay people to ruin yet another great American Classic. Why the hell they chose I Spy is as inexplicable as why the hell Classic Rock Stations continue to play the Marshall Tucker Band! Making a bad movie out of I Spy is like using Dom Perignon to make Jell-O Shots. I can just picture Culp and Cosby at this premier sort of looking down at their shoes and trying to be nice, but really feeling like Bob Kane after Batman and Robin came out (a pox on you all)!
In the film version, Alexander Scott is played in full Shanghai Noon silliness by Owen Wilson. Here, though, instead of the intelligent subtleties of Cosby, Scott is portrayed as an barely competent second stringer who is more likely to slip on a banana peel than he is to date Emma Peel! Because the American CIA has only two secret agents in their ranks they choose Wilson's Alex Scott over Gary Cole's Carlos (the more recognizable of the two) to head to Hungary to find and recover a super-secret spy plane, in spite of the fact that this was already done by Clint Eastwood in Firefox! Inexplicably they decide that Scott needs a cover, so since Kelly Robinson (now not a tennis pro, but an obnoxious middleweight boxer played in full on "Just Pay Me" mode by Eddie Murphy) is going to be taking another Title in Budapest, they decide they should latch Scott on to Kelly! Now, this is all in spite of the fact that the lovely Famke Janssen is already there with a veritable army of Super Spys! Sooooooooooooooooooooooo they need Alex and Kelly why again?
Essentially posed as Kelly's trainer/ manager Alex Scott journeys with the Robinson entourage to Hungary to find the plane... And, um... that's the plot. It's true. At essence, the thin plot (that actually couldn't successfully fill out an episode of the TV Series) is padded by Wilson and Murphy arguing, whining and moaning until the end finally is plopped into the potty bowl that Columbia never uses Mr. Clean on! Sure the ending has what might be considered some twists and turns as we try to determine who is and who is not a "good guy" but by that point you just don't care.
Look, what is there even to say? The jokes are lame, the plot thin, there is none of the camaraderie and interest that Culp and Cosby had, and the whole thing feels tacked together from rejected scenes from The Saint, Beverly Hills Cop II, and Shanghai Knights! Cosby's Alexander Scott was reserved and ironic with his humor and subtlety... He was competent and heroic and almost impossible not to root for, both in his most bookish moments and his most action packed... Wilson plays every goofy line for every goofy half-penny it's worth. There's no question that Wilson is no Bill Cosby, but Murphy is also no Robert Culp! Part of what made Kelly Robinson so likeable was his coolness, not his constant attitude. Murphy's Robinson brags about being an Agency plant, dubs himself "Double O Nine and a Half!" and then explains gleefully that "That was a little in-ya-end-oh!" And let me tell you... that's actually the most clever and funny moment in the whole shebang! That's it!
I'd say that most damning of all is that this film is a major step backward for the I Spy Franchise. The TV Series Debuted during a somewhat racially charged time, and having an African American in the lead role was daring and brave! What was truly great though was that race was just not really an issue on the show. Alexander Scott was a great Agent... period! Here, the fact that Murphy is black and Wilson is white seems to be one of the main focal points of the film. It comes up an uncomfortable amount of times and damages not only the racially transcendent television show, but also the great neutrality that Wilson and Murphy have as actors. I mean, lets face it, both of those guys could play just about anyone... why in the world should race be a crutch here? Bad writing, that's why! All four writers should have been able to come up with something better, and director Betty Thomas (who directed Howard Stern's Private Parts and The Brady Bunch Movie) Can do and has done better!
Look, you really should avoid this movie on the whole, but I can't give it my worst review. Oh, it's bad! It's even worse that Murphy's maligned The Adventures of Pluto Nash, but it's not the worst thing I've ever seen! For one thing, Famke Janssen is more beautiful here than she has been since Goldeneye! The scene with her in a night shirt and these cute little panties is a keeper, but no more than a diamond in the rough! Oh, man, is it ever worth seeing though. Further, Gary Cole, Murphy and Wilson are all good actors, but they have little to work with here. Not that they could achieve the original anyway, but here it's exceptionally flushable! Malcolm McDowell looks more tired, old and embarrassed as this movie's "Bond Villain" than he did guest starring on TV's Lexx! I'm telling you, man, if Alexander de Large ran into the current McDowell at the Milk Bar, there'd really be some ultraviolence. McDowell's a great actor... why does he keep making spoiled meat like this? Some of the special effects are kind of cool, but if that were enough then Armageddon would be a good movie... and brother, it isn't! There were a few moments of interest relating to some of the spy technology that Kelly and Alex got to use, but for the most part if you skipped this one and hit any of the three lame Spy Kids movies you're already a country block ahead! Le'ts see... Famke's panties, decent, but wasted actors, SFX, technology... okay, those are the good points... that's it... scrap the rest!
Why even call this movie I Spy? This film is so far from the original they could have called it "The Day the Teddy Bears Stole the Statue of Liberty" and it wouldn't be any less recognizable than it is! Look, if you're just dying for an update of your favorite Buddy show, just drive to your local video store and rent the 1994 TV Movie I Spy Returns which actually stars Cosby and Culp. It's not the best thing since cookie dough Ice Cream, but it's a damn site better than this quiche! Two Stars go to I Spy. It's as bad an idea as casting Tom Cruise starring in a movie version of Mission Impossible! I sure hope that never happens! Man, right after the credits rolled on this earwax sculpture I went ahead and popped in my VHS of The Best of I Spy. The old boys have still got it... yeah, they do!