Spy Games

I spy, with my little eye, a horse that's been beaten to death...

You’ve positively seen this before. With a different title and another cast maybe, but there is absolutely nothing novel in this version.

Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) is a vain and loud middleweight boxer who moves his mouth faster than he does his hands. Alex Scott (Owen Wilson) is quite his antithesis, a shy, ham-fisted undercover agent who could probably do a better job as a baby-sitter. He has to accompany Robinson to Budapest for a boxing tournament, hosted by a villain called Arnold Gundars (Malcolm McDowell). Gundars intends selling a sophisticated US spy plane to the highest bidder, using the tournament as a cover up. While Robinson has to work inside the ring, Scott has to work outside it, attempting to foil the deal. But he has to locate the plane first, which may not prove so easy, since the machine can turn invisible by camouflaging with its milieu.

Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson are both competent actors on their own, but somehow their synthesis in this picture does not create movie magic. While Murphy consumes much of the script and screen space, Wilson is almost relegated the corner seat, with a character that could put any genuine spy to shame. Then, to pump a little estrogen into this testosterone-driven product, Famke Janssen becomes part of the ensemble by playing Rachel, another secret agent who’s got Scott by the heart and heel. Her character simply rounds off the set of stereotypes that work off a very tired script and an increasingly trying screenplay. Director Betty Thomas does a strictly run-of-the-mill job piecing the scenes together; occasionally the shots get so bad, you wonder if they weren’t filmed by a novice.

Clincher: a black man and an Oriental make for better spy comedy than a black man and a Caucasian with a broken nose.

This article was first published on 29 Jan 2003.