&#91MOVIE REVIEW&#93An espionage comedy that misses the joke

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[MOVIE REVIEW]An espionage comedy that misses the joke

In the opening sequence of "I Spy," Special Agent Alex Scott (Owen Wilson) sits atop a mountain in Uzbekistan in full espionage gear, preparing to rescue a captured American pilot from a terrorist camp below.

But just as Scott is about to make his move, his cell phone rings and his cover is blown. He tumbles helplessly down the mountain slope in an avalanche.

Why did he leave his cell phone on? Why does he even have a cell phone on the mountain?

This silly opening is "I Spy" in a nutshell -- if you choose to exercise your cranium, you could hurt yourself.

In the '60s television series "I Spy," Robert Culp and Bill Cosby played two secret agents who traveled the world disguised as a tennis player and his trainer. Any similarities between that classic and this mish-mash -- other than the racial pairing -- is purely coincidental.

In this painfully contrived movie, Mr. Wilson plays an incompetent (but good-hearted) government operative in an agency called "the Bureau of National Security" or BNS. Eddie Murphy is the flamboyantly arrogant (but good-hearted) Kelly "KO" Robinson, the world middleweight boxing champion. At the President's behest, they must join forces in Budapest to thwart the sale of a stolen state-of-the-art U.S. aircraft by an international arms dealer.

The aircraft, known as "the Switchblade," is the latest absurd twist on Stealth technology. It has a cloaking device that allows it to completely disappear at the press of a button.

It's a little surprising, therefore, that in one of the movie's climactic moments, a plane so advanced would have a self-destruct system that could be simply ripped out and tossed over the side of the cockpit. Is your plane going to explode and kill everyone? Problem solved.

Murphy is as comical as ever playing the fast-talking, fast-punching clown. Sure his hyperactivity is initially hard to bear. But as the movie progresses, his style becomes less grating and he has some truly funny moments.

One highlight is a Cyrano de Bergerac scene, in which he feeds love lines to his sheepish spy partner who courts Rachel, a long-legged spy played by Famke Janssen (also featured in the spy flick "Goldeneye").

Wilson is thoroughly uninspiring as the protagonist, reprising the same whining character in "Zoolander" and "Bottle Rocket."

Even more problematic than director Betty Thomas glacial pacing is the movie's utter implausibility. Suspension of disbelief can be used to create drama in any fictional story, but "I Spy" doesn't suspend as much as it merely dangles.

In the end, "I Spy" would have benefited if it had taken itself less seriously, and reveled in its own absurdity.

by Paul J. Kim
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