I Spy is based on a popular 1960s television show by the same name where two mismatched spies, one white (Robert Culp) and one black (Bill Cosby), engage in wild antics to fight evil around the world. For a series during the middle of the civil rights era, it was considered groundbreaking. Unfortunately, the movie version completely disrespects this inventiveness of the original series. In fact, the movie is thoroughly insulting.
Owen Wilson is Alex Scott, a second-rate super-spy for the BNS (think CIA, I guess), who is always relegated to the department's least desirable assignments. Other BNS spies, like the suave Bond-like Carlos (Gary Cole), are equipped with the most sophisticated spy tools and receive the most attractive jobs. Scott's newest mission though, requires him to travel to Budapest, Hungary with beautiful fellow agent Rachel Wright (Famke Janssen) to prevent the sale of an invisible stealth spy plane. Some of the world's worst criminals have gathered in Budapest for a party sponsored by criminal mastermind Gundars (Malcolm McDowell). He plans to sell this plane during the celebration for an upcoming boxing match, which happens to involve the wildly flamboyant American featherweight boxing champion Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy). The BNS officials recruit Robinson to help Scott and Wright get into the party and accomplish their mission.
Talk about a mission impossible! For the entire movie, Scott and Robinson fight and argue like children about every facet of their assignment. I Spy is so stale and void of anything clever that it solely relies on outbursts between the two to generate comedy. This generic formula of teaming two individuals from different worlds who only bicker has been used in countless other films, and rarely passes as comedy. Here it's just plain annoying!
The concept of taking a civilian and turning him into a spy is already stale and was used once this year along, in Bad Company. In that movie, a CIA special agent played by Anthony Hopkins recruits a street hustler (Chris Rock) to complete an unfinished mission conducted by his recently killed secret agent twin brother. Bad Company suffers from many of the same problems as Spy, but director Joel Schumacher's film is much more true to life by showing Rock's character in extensive training before the mission. I Spy jumps right into the action with not so much as a mention of the complexity of the operation to Robinson, let alone some training sessions.
In the television series, Culp was a playboy who masqueraded as a tennis pro, while the better-educated and professional Cosby acted as Culp's trainer. These roles are completely reversed for the film version. Murphy plays the hotshot athlete because he is black, while Wilson is the white, highly-educated spy. I would think a modern day film could avoid the casting of its leads in stereotypical roles, especially when the original handed them the twist 40 years prior.
There are a few engaging action sequences, but there are far too many plot holes, useless subplots, and mind-numbing exchanges between Wilson and the totally obnoxious Murphy to make up for the film's flaws. The duo's comedic timing never hits, and the two stars produce no shred of discernable chemistry. I Spy is implausible, utterly ridiculous, and absolutely unfunny. It's one of the year's worst films.
KO'd in round one.