While the true hideousness that was Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) is still painful to think about, Eddie Murphy has redeemed himself enough since (The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), Daddy Day Care (2003), Shrek Forever After (2010)) that I’m now willing to give a shot to his films that I’ve missed.
With I Spy, he teamed up with Owen Wilson for a buddy comedy/spy spoof based on the ’60’s TV hit “I Spy”. But, can Murphy and Wilson shine together, or am I just setting myself up for another Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)-sized disappointment?
Eddie Murphy plays self-important boxing champ Kelly Robinson in this big screen adaptation of the show, and does a decent job wise-cracking his way through situation after situation. He’s not as funny as he was in his heyday (the over-inflated ego of his character seems just a bit too natural for him), but he still manages to get in a few decent comedic jabs along the way. As a boxer, however, he seems a bit underwhelming, and viewers can never quite get behind him as a boxing champ.
Owen Wilson, on the other hand, again tries to hard at being funny, and comes off looking a bit desperate and sad. After films like Shanghai Knights (2003) and Wedding Crashers (2005), viewers know he can pull off comedy gold with the right partner, but, unfortunately, I Spy seems to showcase that Eddie Murphy isn’t that partner.
Instead, Owen is forced into an even more cartoonish version of himself, playing second fiddle to a ridiculous super spy named Carlos, and reduced to fishing into a gag of bottom-of-the-barrel spy gear over and over again in his strained efforts to amuse the audience.
Famke Janssen shows up as a much superior secret agent, and mixes the right amount of kick-butt action with sexy feminine wiles to win over the viewers right from the start, only to see the script pull the legs out from under her. Malcolm McDowell, while promoted quite a bit in the trailer, barely gets more than a few speaking sequences, reduced to more of a background character instead of a character he can really sink his teeth into.
The plotline is contrived from the get-go. The super-secret spy plane is a good start (if a bit over-the-top), but the odd, stilted flow of the film (quick action sequences followed by long slowed-down sequences of the two partners getting to know each other in different, nonsensical ways) leaves a lot to be desired. The special effects of the plane are decent, and viewers should enjoy the action sequences, but the getting-there is usually part of the fun of action comedies, and Wilson and Murphy never quite seem to click together.
Without Wilson and Murphy ever really getting on the same page, comedy-wise, and the film doing it’s best to try to destroy any real chance of interest the secondary characters may try to generate, I Spy not only plays fast and loose with the original TV series, but fast and loose with our idea of a good buddy comedy.
While Murphy may not be all at fault here (Wilson, in fact, comes off looking the worst out of the pair), I Spy is another disappointment. Thankfully, it’s nowhere near as bad as Beverly Hills Cop III (1994).