Except for the fact that it isn’t set on the moon, I kept thinking I was watching The Adventures of Pluto Nash all over again. I have a piece of advice for Owen Wilson: Go write something with Wes Anderson and stop this nonsense. I have a piece of advice for Eddie Murphy: Sign the contract for Dr. Dolittle 3 — fast. And I have a piece of advice for moviegoers: Stay away from this noisy, witless fiasco.
Ostensibly — and so loosely it hardly bears mentioning — based on the 1960s TV series, the film not only can’t fall back on the one thing that made the show daring for its time (pairing a white man and a black man), but it insists on making hash out of that then-breakthrough concept by turning Eddie Murphy into little more than Owen Wilson’s sidekick. Despite the fact that Murphy’s character is all swagger and boast and given to the occasional single-entendre line (“I’m gonna be more like agent Double-O Nine-and-a-Half,” he says, and, just in case we don’t get it, adds, “That’s a little innuendo”), this is probably the most utterly emasculated character Murphy’s ever undertaken. Wilson’s the one with the girl (Famke Janssen), leaving Murphy to offer romantic advice and attempt to indulge in voyeurism. Mantan Moreland had this kind of role back in the 1940s … only he managed to make it actually funny. Murphy only comes off as diminished.
Even if you can get around this aspect of the movie, there’s the movie itself to contend with. The film steadfastly wrestles the art of the spy flick to the ground, and breaks its arm. There is nothing — and I mean nothing — in I Spy that you haven’t seen before. And there’s nothing you haven’t seen done better either. Hell, one of the big highlights of a chase sequence in the film — involving making a getaway on a trailer transporting cars — was just recently done (much better) in The Transporter.
Worse, there’s no worthy villain. Oh, there’s a villain all right — played by a bored Malcolm McDowell, who seems to be wondering what happened to the days when he worked for directors like Stanley Kubrick, Lindsay Anderson, Richard Lester and Bryan Forbes. Now, he’s taking orders from the woman who gave us The Brady Bunch Movie and probably thinking that being in Tank Girl wasn’t all that bad. He’s hardly even trying and little wonder, since I Spy gives him no real character and no real personality, and even cheats him out of a decent comeuppance.
McDowell is only in this disaster for the plot, since the plot dictates that someone has to be selling off a stealth fighter plane to the highest bidder. Not that the plot much matters, since the movie is 75 percent weak comedy and 25 percent lame action. It’s one of those flicks where bad guys keep shooting at our heroes and keep missing them — the best these Eastern European sharpshooters can manage is to shoot up a lot of statuary. They must have taken marksmanship lessons from the Bosnian baddies who were trying to off Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines.
The only thing the movie has going for it are the beautiful Budapest locations, but a travelogue would give you the same thing in one-third the time. If you’re a fan of Wilson, go rent The Royal Tennenbaums or even Zoolander. If you’re a Murphy admirer, go rent Shrek or Dr. Dolittle 2 or almost anything other than his last couple of movies. If you’re just looking for a way to kill 90 minutes, there’s always the bowling alley.