Funny spy spoofs are rarer than ugly girls in a Bond film. Every one of them wants to be Austin Powers or Our Man Flint, but almost all end up like Spies Like Us or Condorman. Sadly, I Spy - - based on the `60s TV series starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp - - doesn't buck the trend.
Owen Wilson plays bumbling American agent Alex Scott, sent on a mission to retrieve a stolen spy plane from an evil weapons dealer (Malcolm McDowell on autopilot). In order to gain access to the bad guy's party, he enlists the help of cocky boxing champ Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy), who just happens to have a prize fight in the villain's lair that night.
Without the imagination for satire or the energy for farce, I Spy strolls amiably along from one silly buddy/action movie cliché toanother, occasionally stopping to stick its head round the door marked `witless innuendo'. It's not dreadful, but from the lazy smirks of an icebound opening sequence to the charmless Cold War chuckles of the Budapest-based main plot (which feels embarrassingly similar to that of xXx), this reeks of half-hearted, formulaic filmmaking.
The leads don't help much. Individually they're fine (yes, even Murphy), but together they're rather less than the sum of their parts. The filmmakers were obviously hoping for a repeat of the Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson chemistry that made Shanghai Noon rattle along, but Wilson's idiot-savant, surfer-dude schtick simply doesn't strike enough sparks off Murphy's ego-pumped attitude. An agreeable teaming? Definitely. A memorable one? Er, can you repeat the question?
Famke Janssen looks fabulous as Wilson's spy girlfriend, and there are laughs to be had en route to the welcome finish. But for every flickering chortle there are acres of screen time - like the lengthy, leaden chase sequence that squats humourlessly in the midsection - that squash any goodwill like a bug.
Less a big-screen movie, more a pilot for a cable TV show, I Spy doesn't even have the ambition to be dreadful. If the words 'average' and 'competent' get your juices flowing, this one is for you.