“It needs to be sleek and sexy,” said Owen Wilson, as loser secret agent Alex Scott in his new movie, “I Spy.” “And look at mine, the shit looks like it was bought at Radio Shack.”
Was he talking about his spy equipment, or the embarrassing ninety-minute debacle that he must have agreed to do during a moment of extreme weakness and vulnerability? Surprising, too, after Wilson has of late impressed many with “The Royal Tenenbaums,” one of three films (“Rushmore,” “Bottle Rocket”) he starred in and co-wrote with Wes Anderson.
“I Spy,” though, is simply a lame remake of the popular ’60s TV series, under the same name, that teamed up Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. The show captured audiences with comic wit and smart racial interaction, and it is a disappointment that the cutting-edge technology, vast production budgets and rich acting talent of the 21st century had nothing to add to this light-hearted, entertaining tale.
Alex, a B-level spy, is forced to enlist the help of a professional athlete civilian to infiltrate a foreign palace, recover stolen weapons and defeat token international “evildoers.” (There is a love affair, of course, and Wilson’s best moment comes when he pronounces his feelings for a fellow spy with the following words, “I have a crush on Rachel, whew, she’s so — powerful. She really threw me around back there like I was nothing.”) Of course “I Spy” was never meant to make an appearance at the Academy Awards, but audiences should have at least deserved a feigned effort for their $10 ticket and $20 munchies.
“I Spy” clearly hoped to capture shelf space next to James Bond movies and “Mission: Impossible,” films that time and again score big with their dazzling special effects, charged action sequences, and high-profile celebrity leads. Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s (“Face/Off”) clean and sharp images shamelessly resemble these films but lack originality.
In fact, the closest “I Spy” got to Pierce Brosnan’s and Tom Cruise’s latest box-office hits was a mere passing reference. Big-talking and short-thinking boxer Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) reiterated his cell phone call from the President to three adoring female fans, “Some secret mission, ya know, James Bond and all that. Only I wouldn’t be 007, ya know what I’m saying, I’d be double O, nine-and-a-half.”
To make matters worse, the four-person writing team (David Ronn, Jay Scherick, Marianne Wibberley, Cormac Wibberley) created dialogue that was not only formulaic, ridiculous and unfunny, but it went so far as to be offensive. With a narrative full of racial innuendos, the film mocks the underlying themes that the television series successfully and intelligently addressed. Wilson’s and Murphy’s awkward, contrived confrontations flopped in a pile of vulgar undertone.
It is a shame that the talented and dynamic Wilson sank to this level. It is a shame that Murphy is now on the official “No-See” list, (“Pluto Nash,” “Showtime,” “Dr. Dolittle 2,” “Bowfinger,” and now “I Spy” are starting to look like a pattern.) It is really a shame, though, that so many vital natural resources went into the production of that movie, the gas for my trip over to North Haven, and the paper sitting in your hands encouraging you to at least do your part by not wasting your time with “I Spy.”