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I Spy (November 1/02)

I Spy, based on the old '60s television show with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, is yet another watered-down, entirely predictable pseudo-action flick. Like Showtime, another Eddie Murphy film released earlier this year, I Spy substitutes big explosions for actual violence and bases the whole movie on a tired formula involving incompatible partners.

Owen Wilson stars as Alexander Scott, a fairly inept secret agent who is forced to team with a brash and loud-mouthed boxer named Kelly Robinson (Murphy, who else?) Robinson's connections can get the two into the mansion of a rich and powerful villain named Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), who has in his possession a plane that has the ability to become invisible. Many, many lame jokes ensue - mostly involving the wacky mismatched nature of Murphy and Wilson's relationship. Gary Cole has a small part as a Spanish spy named Carlos, a character so appealing and bizarre it's easy enough to wish he was the focus of the film.

I Spy is about as mainstream and safe as movies tend to come, designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. What can you really say about a movie that stars the great Owen Wilson, and subsequently manages to waste him in virtually every single scene? There is exactly one funny sequence in the entire movie, a moment that all the commercials have seen fit to divulge. Wilson, too nervous to speak to a beautiful woman (Famke Janssen), allows Murphy to coach him via an earpiece - an event that culminates with Murphy singing Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing to Wilson, who does a pretty good job of mangling the song. That was a funny moment, one that was independent of the entirely-too-busy plot, unlike the remainder that might as well have been out of a how-to-make-a-family-friendly-action-movie handbook.

I Spy's even got one of those cheesy European bad guys that flourished in '80s action flicks and appear to be making a comeback. Here, that villain is played by Malcolm McDowell, who's apparently picking up where Dennis Hopper left off and taking every evil role that comes his way. But the problem here is that he's actually not that evil; sure, he has this top-secret nuclear aircraft that he wants to sell, but that's about the extent of it. He doesn't kill a single minion for disobeying an order, nor does he ever screw over a potential customer. Instead, he's just a businessman out to make a bundle of money. If nothing else, a movie like this should have a truly despicable and over-the-top bad guy that the audience can hate. McDowell's character will only elicit feelings of indifference, which is kind of pointless, really.

I Spy might appeal to those looking for a completely mindless flick to kill some time with, but everyone else should stay clear.

out of

© David Nusair