Revival of ’60s show is ‘Spy’ lame

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I Spy
Rated PG-13
Opening tomorrow in area theaters
One reel out of four

I’m just gonna put my cards on the table about I Spy, the latest film to be based on a former TV show. I hated, hated, hated this movie. But you know what I love about this job? I get a whole page to tell you why.

First, a little synopsis. Owen Wilson plays Alexander Scott, who is to the world of secret agents what Avis used to be to rental cars. He’s number-two, but tries harder. Things don’t get any easier when he’s called on to baby-sit boxer Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy). Robinson has been asked, by the president no less, to spy on a shady arms dealer (Malcolm McDowell) when he defends his title in Budapest. Scott hopes this unpleasant assignment will get the attention of the agency and of fellow agent Rachel (Famke Janssen), on whom he has had a crush for years.

I Spy, for the pop-culture challenged, is the eagerly awaited big-screen version of a popular ’60s TV show starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp. Although it was a hip show for its time, it is most notable as an historical footnote. Cosby, who then played Scott, was the first African-American lead on a prime-time series.

And Cosby is where I’ll start. In the original show, Culp’s character Robinson was a professional athlete — an internationally ranked tennis player, no less — as a cover. He really worked as a spy. He was equally adept at espionage as his partner, and even more so at times.

In the movie, Robinson is painted as an almost buffoonish and certainly cartoonish boxer. His only skills seem to be in the ring and the bedroom. Cosby’s Robinson was no slouch with the ladies, but never at the expense of his dignity. I wouldn’t mind it so much if Murphy pulled it off. This is one of his worst characterizations in years. He comes off like a throwaway character on Saturday Night Live.

But Murphy is not the only culprit here. I hold everyone responsible. To quote a well-known local movie critic who shall remain nameless, "I see the check cleared." And this is why I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Sure, the special effects are fine. They’re even more than fine at times. Murphy and Wilson seem to have some type of rapport, despite Murphy’s miscalculation. But it’s obvious in each and every frame of this movie that nobody gave a damn. Not director Betty Thomas, not Wilson and certainly not Murphy. Most of the scenes seem sloppily thrown together. They have the feel of outtakes.

The film Bad Company gave me the same sense earlier this year. The action was better and the comedy was better. And I didn’t care for that, either.

All of the talent involved should know better. I say let’s chalk this up to bad judgment and move on.


Recommened rental

Spider-Man
Available tomorrow
Rated PG-13

I can’t think of a better person to direct Spider-Man than Sam Raimi. He’s not only passionate about comic books (as he showed in 1990’s Darkman and various other projects), but he has the right sensibility to pull it off. The perfectly cast Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker, an aspiring photographer with a huge crush on his next-door neighbor and classmate Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst). When a radioactive spider bites Peter, he gets superpowers. Raimi has seamlessly intertwined a great action movie with a bittersweet love story, making it the best popcorn flick in years.