Sony // 1994 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // October 23rd, 2002
The world's greatest spies are back in action.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from I Spy Returns. They didn't let me down.
Agent Scott (Bill Cosby) and Agent Robinson (Robert Culp) were once a great spy duo. Now Scott is a professor while Robinson is a higher up with "the firm." Scott gets a call from his daughter, who unbeknownst to him has become the greatest rookie spy in recent memory. He goes back to the firm to make an unsuccessful attempt to sway her from spyhood.
Her first mission is a milk run, which I gather means it is really easy. Guess who her partner is? Robinson's son. They are to babysit a defecting Russian scientist and his wife. They begin tailing the couple, but we see that they themselves are being followed. One guess who is following them. That's right...Scott and Robinson checking up on the kids.
Before we know it, the mission turns dangerous as people with guns start running around. Agents Scott and Robinson and Scott and Robinson must work together to interfere with each other to protect the Russian couple from harm. Whew!
I knew something was fishy when the image came up full screen, and I immediately went into pan-and-scan-road-rage mode. Was the artistic integrity of the director being compromised? But later a scene faded out, only to fade back in to the same people in the same room. My worst fear was realized: made for TV movie.
That shouldn't surprise me. Cosby got his start in the TV show I Spy, and from what I hear it was a pretty decent show. After his enormous success and fame, it's surprising to find him slumming it in films like I Spy Returns. Whatever spark or cleverness may have been in the TV series was MIA here.
Usually a plot this linear and predictable is just a foil for great character interactions, humor, or eye candy. In I Spy Returns, the plot wasn't a foil for anything. Cosby packed more laughs between commercial breaks of any given The Cosby Show episode than in this whole movie. Never seen him this flat before; he is usually THE MAN!
Essentially, I Spy Returns is a series of Scooby Doo-style plot twists interspersed with incessant bickering, punctuated by the occasional cliché. May the prosecution submit exhibit A, the titles of chapters 10-14: Escape, Capture, Bait, Rescue, Chase. Is your blood pumping yet? There was never a moment of tension, fear, or suspense. There was more suspense wondering whether or not MacGyver would escape with just shoestrings, hairspray, and a matchbook. Michael Knight and KITT generated greater chemistry...and KITT is not a person, he's a car. Pitted against these other crack TV sleuths, Scott and Robinson fare poorly.
Their kids fare even worse. There isn't a shred of genuine chemistry between these two. They are two fine actors thrust into completely bland, linear situations and they never connect with each other.
I wish I could say that the quality of the DVD makes up for it in some way. However, the entire movie is replete with digital artifacts. I mean big ones. Every time someone moves, great jagged lines of bits 'n' bytes cloud the screen. I was amazed at the majesty and persistence of the digital artifacts. Ironically, the digital noise led to one of the movie's funniest moments. Agent Robinson is running across a courtyard but he is all fuzzy, like the fuzzy donkey outtakes in Shrek. I rewound a few times because it was so comical. "Don't worry, we're saved! The fuzz is here!"
There is actually a 5.1 mix, and it did use the surrounds once or twice. Scary!
The extras are badly produced photo galleries and actor resumes. At least they kept with the digital artifact theme.
It is fun sometimes to tease a movie that deserves it, like in my review of John Carpenter's Vampires. But at the end of the day I felt something for that movie, and still respect John Carpenter, James Woods, and the rest. I feel nothing here, even excepting for the TV movie status and the obvious nostalgia exploitation at work.
Salli Richardson as Nicole Scott stole the show. Granted, stealing this show is easier than shoplifting KY Jelly. When she smiles, life is good. This woman needs to become a big-time star. George Newbern (her partner) was able to summon some acting to save moments of the film as well.
I like Cosby, I really really do. I'm probably missing entire dimensions of this movie because I don't know jack about I Spy. There were some old scenes in the credits of I Spy Returns, and those brief glimpses were more compelling than the rest of this movie put together. As a diehard James Bond fan, perhaps I was expecting too much. I wanted to like this movie!
There is nothing to recommend purchase of this disc. If you are a fan of I Spy, catch it on TV sometime. It would actually be better with commercials, and maybe there wouldn't be digital artifacts.
If these are the world's greatest spies, we are doomed. On the charge of espionage, I find these "spies" not guilty: they did no spying of any kind. I find HBO and director Jerry London in contempt of court.
Review content copyright © 2002 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Photo Gallery
* Director and Cast Filmographies