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I Spy (2002)

The problem with I Spy (2002) isn't so much that it's bad (which it is), but that it's wasteful. Because despite the fact that he's managed to make some real stinkers lately (Pluto Nash, anyone?), Eddie Murphy is a talented, funny performer. So pairing him in an action film with sardonic hipster Owen Wilson should have meant laughs aplenty — perhaps even a 48 Hours for the new millennium. Instead, I Spy squanders not only its stars' potential and a pre-screened premise (the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby TV series it's loosely based on is a classic), but — even worse — its audience's time. Wilson fans will likely find something redeeming in the film's 97 minutes (the man does know how to milk the funny out of even the silliest lines), but they'd be better off seeing one of his Shanghai flicks: As partners go, Jackie Chan appears to be a better one for the broken-nosed quip-machine than Murphy. Here, the erstwhile Gumby plays boxing star Kelly Robinson — an egotistical strutter whose overconfidence is matched only by the number of items he owns that have his picture on them. Robinson is paired up with awkward special agent Alex (Wilson) to help the government infiltrate the lair of super-villain/boxing fan Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), who's made off with an experimental spy plane and intends to sell it to the highest bidder. Tagging along is Alex's fellow agent (and object of affection) Rachel (Famke Janssen). Naturally, Kelly and Alex are at odds from the get-go, and, also naturally, they have to learn to work together to foil Gundars' plan. What follows is a mishmash of forced action sequences, silly romantic/bonding interludes, a few double-crosses, and one really fake-looking airplane. One of the few highlights is Gary Cole's performance as uber-agent Carlos; Cole does a perfect send-up of every spy stereotype, and Alex's resentment of his rival's perfection (and preferential treatment) gives Wilson some of his best moments. Bits like that make I Spy as a whole all the more frustrating: Somewhere inside the convoluted plot, predictable "twists," and jarring pacing is a better, more original action comedy struggling to set itself free. Nevertheless, Columbia TriStar gives this incarnation of I Spy a decent DVD treatment. The disc includes anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers (both are clean and clear), as well as a strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track — a French track is also included, as are English and French subtitles. Director Betty Thomas and a gaggle of her fellow crew members offer a spirited — if somewhat chaotic — audio commentary, and four brief production featurettes touch on everything from costumes to filming locations. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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