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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
I Spy (2002)
1 Stars

Directed by Betty Thomas
Cast: Owen Wilson, Eddie Murphy, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole, Viv Leacock, Phill Lewis, Darren Shahlavi
2002 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, and sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 2, 2002.

When a film's end credits expose that the screenplay was written by four different people (in this case Marianne Wibberley, Cormac Wibberley, David Ronn and Jay Scherick), and this discovery prompts you to verbally remark in disbelief, "It took four people to write that?," you pretty much can guess how the preceding 90 minutes went. Based so loosely on the 1965-'68 television series that the only things remaining the same are the title, the subject of espionage, and the pairing of a black and white actor, "I Spy" is a rather dismal, glaringly formulaic action-comedy. Dismal because it is rarely funny or exciting, and formulaic because there isn't a twist, scene, or even moment that hasn't been prefabricated by senseless movie heads and stripped of any sign of creativity.

"48 Hours." "Rush Hour." "Lethal Weapon." "The Tuxedo." "Bad Company." Why go on? Change the buddy pairing, introduce a stock megalomaniac villain, and mix in action hijinks and one-liners, and what you have is the very same movie repeated again and again, ad nauseum. The final result of each varies in quality, to be sure, but giving myself a paper cut, a 'la "Jackass: The Movie," is sounding more appealing by the week in comparison to sitting through another one of these endless generic buddy flicks.

The plot "I Spy" has been given is beside the point, and actually very stupid and nonsensical, when you stop to think about it. Owen Wilson (2001's "Behind Enemy Lines") stars as Alex Scott, a top-secret spy agent who is teamed up with arrogant middleweight boxing champ Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) to stop Arnold Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), a maniacal international arms dealer. Gundars has stolen a highly advanced stealth plane with the abilities to turn itself invisible and blow things up real good, the latter of which he is planning to do if Alex and Kelly don't put their heads together and thwart him in time.

In addition, there is a half-hearted romance that wastes fifteen minutes of running time being set up between Alex and sexy co-spy Rachel (Famke Janssen), only for the payoff to crumble by the finale. And the bevy of double-crosses that occur were so obvious, I was willing to give my moviegoing companion all the money in my pocket if even one of my predictions was incorrect. In the end, I got to keep every last cent.

Owen Wilson, a screenwriter himself (1998's "Rushmore" and 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums"), shows some spunk as the lovestruck Alex Scott, but he is too smart a character actor to be wasting his time with nonexistent material. Apparently, he would agree; in one early scene, he more or less appears to be dozing off during a one-on-one conversation.

The only positive thing that can be said about Eddie Murphy is that "I Spy" is a step above this year's bombs "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" and "Showtime." Both of those marked two of the worst movies of the years, while "I Spy" is just drearily mediocre. Either way, whatever flair Murphy once had has been lost with a string of awful career moves and painfully unfunny performances. Unless he becomes a better judge of writing soon, his profession will be over to the same degree that Pauly Shore's is.

As for Famke Janssen (2001's "Don't Say a Word"), as vixenish Rachel, and the once-great-and-prospering Malcolm McDowell (1971's "A Clockwork Orange" was a high point), the less said, the better. Janssen looks more haggard than desirable—a rare feat for her—and McDowell is one of the most inconsequential, empty-headed, forgettable villains in buddy movie history.

Aside from an elaborate, mid-section action sequence and a few bits of inspired dialogue, "I Spy" fails to divert the viewer's mind away from the assortment of things that are wrong with it. Jarringly and unskillfully edited (by Matt Friedman and Peter Teschner), directed without aplomb by the usually reliable Betty Thomas (1997's "Private Parts"), and virtually evaporating before your eyes as it plays out, "I Spy" a brisk run to home video and DVD and the abandonment of sequel plans. We can all hope, can't we?

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman