“I Spy” lacks creativity, originality, humor

Ted Pigeon

Along with Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy started the modern buddy movie phenomenon with “48 Hours,” the 1982 action/comedy smash about two very unlikely cop partners. The buddy movie of this kind can be viewed as a good thing (The “Lethal Weapon” series, particularly the first two) or a bad thing (the “Rush Hour” series, especially the most recent installment). Now, 20 years later, Eddie Murphy is back at it again with “I Spy,” yet another buddy movie that employs the same old clichés as every other movie of this type.

In “I Spy,” Owen Wilson plays Alex Scott, a problematic spy who works for the CIA. Scott feels that he’s not given the respect he deserves as a spy and wishes that the espionage business were more traditional than it is, since he frequently talks about simple stakeout missions that he wishes he had. His wish comes true in his next assignment, which is to recover the world’s most powerful weapon, an aircraft stolen from the United States. It is being secretly auctioned in Budapest on the night of the much-anticipated boxing championship of the world. To pull off this assignment, the CIA pairs Scott to work with Kelly Robinson (Murphy), a self-adulating American boxer who will be defending his championship and has a record of 57-0 That he loves to talk about. The only way Scott can get into the event is through Robinson, so this means they have to work together. Robinson refers to himself in the third person, which, as Wilson’s character points out, can get pretty irritating.

The film does fine when Murphy and Wilson are exchanging one-liners and working off of each other. However, it is so bogged down by its insignificant plot that opportunities for the two of them to share funny moments are rare. Murphy and Wilson are both very humorous individuals, and they prove that they have plenty of chemistry on screen together. But when they’re not resolving plot issues, they are engaged in one pointless chase scene after another. The action sequences are not bad, but they’ve been done so many times before in other films that they feel old and recycled in this movie.

Though it may seem hard to believe, there are a lot of missed opportunities in “I Spy.” Four writers were credited for the screenplay, which makes me wonder what the first draft looked like. Betty Thomas, who took charge of the wildly original “Private Parts,” also directed this film that at times seems flat. Even those who were involved in making the movie seemed bored with the plot. The most enjoyable scenes in the movie are the ones that have very little to do with the plot, involving simple conversations between the two leads. The ever-changing plot is a complete throwaway and, when the finale arrives, it garners no excitement besides the realization that the movie is almost over, which is quite exciting.

“48 Hours” was Murphy’s big-screen debut, and his performance was absolutely sensational. He was brimming with energy and likewise so was the film. It’s ironic that both his first and his most recent movies are a part of the same sub-genre he helped to create. And although he is lively and energetic as usual in his latest outing, the same can’t be said about “I Spy,” a stale and tired retread of 20 years’ worth of buddy movies.