A scene from 'I Spy'
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1/2* star 96 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, November 1, 2002
Directed by Betty Thomas

Starring Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole

This film is on the Worst of 2002 list.

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actor Malcolm McDowell
Our 1995 interview with
director Betty Thomas


Recommended only for use as a torture device. I've heard several copies have been ordered by the CIA for use on al Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 03.11.2003


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Mismatched Murphy and Wilson can't ad lib their way out of utterly inept TV spin-off

By Rob Blackwelder

It's been 20 years since "48 Hrs." made Eddie Murphy a movie star and the man hasn't aged a day. But his showboating wise-cracker stock persona sure is getting old.

Unfurling that same mustachioed smirk he's worn in all his worst movies, Murphy strikes out again in "I-Spy," an ill-conceived, utterly vacuous, assembly-line, buddy action-comedy slapped together from paltry cloak-and-dagger scraps, off-the-shelf gimmicks and 30-year-old special effects.

Murphy plays a rich, egotistical professional boxer who is paired with a hapless secret agent (the winkingly ironic Owen Wilson, "Behind Enemy Lines") under the flimsiest of "wouldn't it be funny if" pretenses. The entire concept behind the film seems to consist of dropping these two into shopworn set pieces (a car chase, a shoot-out) and letting them ad-lib, ad nauseam.

The meager, pathetically contrived Bond-spawn plot (retrieve a stolen prototype stealth fighter from a Nehru-jacketed multimillionaire bad guy) takes a back seat to scene after scene after scene of this unscripted, character-lacking, autopilot schtick. What's worse, director Betty Thomas ("28 Days," Murphy's "Dr. Dolittle"), doesn't seem to realize how badly mismatched these actors are.

Murphy and Wilson (who has been an understated laugh-riot in "The Royal Tenenbaums" and other films he co-wrote with director Wes Anderson) are talented comedic actors with often unfortunate taste in scripts, and both are scraping bottom here while trying to save face at the same time. As a result, their scenes together play as if each of them were doing his own comedy routine, either unaware or uninterested that the other one is in the room.

"I-Spy" is loosely spun off from the 1960s TV comedy-adventure of the same name, which starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as the spy and the professional tennis player who provided his globetrotting cover. But this picture has little in common with its inspiration other than the ebony-and-ivory pairing of its leads and the lack of quality special effects. Big chunks of this picture look as if they were shot on the soundstage at a college TV station -- including the laughably bad rear-projection F/X car chases.

The movie's explosions appear as flat. Its gunfights are literally scattershot. Its stunt scenes are riddled with continuity problems (one second they're inside a building, the next their on the roof without explanation). And all the while, Murphy and Wilson are yappity-yap-yapping, trying desperately (and failing spectacularly) to squeeze any kind of laugh out of each lifeless episode -- be it the hackneyed gadget briefing scene, the hackneyed rooftop fight scene or the hackneyed attempt to bed the inevitable double-agent babe (Famke Janssen, taking a big step down from her Bond girl days).

"I-Spy" is more than just a misfire. It's rotten from concept to casting to directing to editing to ad campaign. If the movie's two stars didn't have their own resilient charms to serve as haz-mat suits against the cesspool they're swimming in (almost literally -- the movie's longest ad-lib scene takes place in a Budapest sewer), this unbelievable bomb could be a career-killer.

And with "Showtime" and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" already putting a stink on Murphy this year, his charm may not be enough.


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