Secret Agent Man

I-Spy blends comedy, action and eye-candy into a workable film.

Although it's not likely that anyone actually remembers it, there was once a TV series called I Spy, which starred Bill Cosby before he became a pompous jerk and Robert Culp before he became an old guy. They played international spies who posed as a pro tennis player and his trainer, respectively.

Strangely, the new movie I-Spy has absolutely nothing in common with that series, except that there's some spying, and the two lead characters are a black guy and a white guy. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they called it I-Spy. Is I-Spy the only possible name for any filmed entertainment involving a black guy and a white guy? Will all future films featuring a white guy and a Chinese guy be called The Green Hornet? Is there some kind of new rule that you have to name any film after a TV series, so that future installments of the Lord of the Rings series will be called Bewitched: The Very Early Years?

That quibble aside, I-Spy actually has a number of plusses on its side. First off, it starts in Uzbekistan. Now, granted, Uzbekistan is not as cool as Kyrgizstan, but still, it's one of the --stan countries, and that's pretty sweet.

Secondly, moreover, and in addition, I-Spy has a bunch of funny jokes. Most Hollywood comedies get by with three funny jokes and 14 poop-related jokes. There are no poop-related jokes in I-Spy, making it the first big-budget comedy since 1991 to go poop-free.

Plus, and thirdly, I-Spy stars Owen Wilson, who's just so darned funny and cute and likeable. Also, in the future, any movie that stars a white guy and either a black guy or a Chinese guy will star Owen Wilson, or so I hear, so, you know, buckle up when you see Owen Wilson coming.

Wilson plays hapless spy Alexander Scott, who has just been promoted from agent to special agent, and he's hoping that that means he'll be getting all the coolest spy gear now. Unfortunately, no such luck. Instead, the cool stuff goes to his arch-rival Carlos, who's played by the extremely talented and underutilized Gary Cole.

Cole is a chameleon-like actor, so most people not only don't know his name, they don't even recognize him from role to role, but he may be best known for his spot-on Robert Reed impression in the role of Mike Brady in the Brady Bunch movies. Which not only goes to prove a point I made in the second paragraph, but also makes Cole totally cool. The only thing that could make Gary Cole cooler than he is would be if he were to do a Vic Tayback impression in the upcoming Alice: Mel Goes Ape! movie, which I think is coming out right after the Welcome Back Kotter: The Sweathogs Take Iraq movie.

So anyway, poor Alexander Scott has to make due with crappy, over-sized spy gear, and this deeply harshes his buzz. Worse, he is forced to team up with a civilian. And not just any civilian: a loud-mouthed boxer who knows nothing about the spy game. And worse still: this boxer is played by Eddie Murphy!

Imagine the horror that creeps into someone's heart when they learn they are to team up with the genius behind Holy Man, Vampire in Brooklyn and, most terrifying of all, The Adventures of Pluto Nash. The latter is a film that cost $100 million to make, and grossed just over $4 million at the box office. That's like paying a hundred bucks for a McDonald's Happy Meal ... and not merely like it.

Wilson and Murphy, though, make a fair enough comic team. Sure, Murphy is annoying, but Wilson is so good at looking simultaneously resigned and annoyed that it kind of works out. Plus, as soon as their mission starts, they run into Rachel, another spy, who is played by Famke Janssen.

Famke Janssen is that rare case of someone who used to make a living by being photographed in underwear and is now a competent actress. Plus, not only does Ms. Janssen wear size 11 shoes (and you know what they say: big feet, big ... wait a minute ... ), her name is also a Frisian word meaning "little girl." Frisian, of course, is the modern language that is closest to English, so having a Frisian name makes one unbelievably cool.

So it makes perfect sense that Alexander Scott is in love with Rachel. I mean, who's not in love with Famke Janssen? Plus, this being a movie, somebody has to be in love with somebody, so it might as well be with Famke Janssen.

Anyway, Famke and Owen and Eddie team up to try to stop Malcolm McDowell, who plays That Villainous Guy That Malcolm McDowell Has Been Playing In Every Movie He's Been In For The Last 20 Years, from selling a stolen American weapon.

Said weapon is apparently Wonder Woman's jet, remember that invisible one she used to fly in the old Super Friends cartoon? By the way, they're actually making a Super Friends movie. I'm not making that up. See again paragraph two above.

OK, so does this all work? Basically, yes. There's comedy and explosions and comical explosions and Famke Janssen in her underwear, so it really could have been worse. Seeing as Eddie Murphy's in it, it could have been a lot worse. A whole lot worse.

I-Spy is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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