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Case Number 02755

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I Spy (2002)

Sony // 2002 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 28th, 2003

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our reviews of I Spy Returns (published October 23rd, 2002) and I Spy: The Complete Series (published June 12th, 2014) are also available.

The Charge

Espionage with attitude.

Opening Statement

Moviegoers needed another TV-to-movie remake like we needed a collective hole in out heads. For every old boob tube show—generally made in the 1960s and '70s—turned into a successful movie (The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family), there are dozens more that flounder and fail (Car 54, Where Are You?, The Beverly Hillbillies, the list goes on and on…). Well, Hollywood has done it again with 2002's I Spy. Originally a television series starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, I Spy is now a big-budget action flick starring Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor, Boomerang) and Owen Wilson (Shanghai Knights, Behind Enemy Lines). I Spy is now available on DVD care of Columbia Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

I Spy is loosely based (and I use that term very stringently) on the classic TV show of the same name. In this film version, Eddie Murphy plays Kelly Robinson (played by Robert Culp in the original), an egotistic boxing champion who is drafted by his country to help a smooth super spy (Owen Wilson, played in the show by Bill Cosby) retrieve a top secret jet (with capabilities of invisibility) before it ends up in the hands of international terrorists via a slick bad guy (Malcolm McDowell, Star Trek: Generations) who is planning on selling it to the highest bidder. Armed with some of the most sophisticated gadgets and weapons this side of 007, our two often bumbling heroes will need to muster up all their courage and smarts to outwit the enemy and keep the United States of America safe!

The Evidence

I have been handpicked to bring you this breaking news story: the buddy-action genre is officially dead. As heartbreaking as this may be for some moviegoers, the fact remains that this theme has worn itself so fully into the ground that it's possible it might resurface sometime in the future near China. Though I've always enjoyed watching two completely opposite actors pair up to blow up stuff real good, the sad truth is that there isn't a witty, original script of this nature floating around Hollywood. Case in point: I Spy.

At first glance, the idea of casting Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson seems like an inspired one. I will admit that there were moments in I Spy when I saw, with bright, ringing clarity, the possibilities this film had. Owen Wilson is one of the most charming actors working in Hollywood today. His surfer looks and laid back delivery make him a thoroughly enjoyable actor to watch. Eddie Murphy, who has seemingly churned out more stinkers than the entire toddler population combined (The Adventures of Pluto Nash, anyone?), can also be a funny guy when put into the right script. Unfortunately, an old adage has been turned on its ear for I Spy: two rights DO make a wrong. I Spy is wrong in almost every way possible: the action is boring, the plot inane and uninteresting, and the characterization floating at bare minimum.

For those looking for action you'll find it in various forms: lots of people are shot at, a car is blown up, a few explosions transpire, et cetera. The problem is that they're all done out of redundancy, not excitement. It takes a special movie to tread in both comedy and action successfully, and I Spy isn't it. Does anyone really, truly care about the plot to any secret agent/espionage movie not featuring James Bond? Especially one that's supposed to be a comedy? I didn't think so. Thankfully there's Famke Jannsen (Goldeneye) to spice up the proceedings with a few flying drop kicks, though even she can't save herself from the screenplay's unending mediocrity. Maybe this movie would have fared better had Gary Cole (Office Space) been given more screen time to win us over with his slick, ultra smooth spy Carlos (worlds away from his Mr. Brady character in the two Brady Bunch films). Maybe, or maybe not…

I Spy was directed by Betty Thomas, a woman who has made far better movies (The Late Shift , The Brady Bunch Movie) in far better genres (comedy). Owen Wilson has also made far better movies (The Royal Tenenbaums) in far better genres (intellectual spoofs). Eddie Murphy has made…ah, but I think you see my point. I Spy is for die hard action buddy movie fans, and that's about it.

This review will self destruct in 10 seconds. Have a nice day.

I Spy is presented in both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen version and 1.33:1 full frame transfer. Obviously, I recommend the widescreen transfer over the full frame one. The widescreen image is in very good shape with colors and black levels consistent and solid. Only a few of the scenes seemed a bit under lit, though this may be due in part more to the production than the transfer. Otherwise, Columbia has done a decent job at making sure this picture is excellent shape. The cropped pan and scan version is also in decent shape, though much information is hacked from the sides and therefore isn't worth the viewer's time.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Not surprisingly, this film features a multitude of directional effects and surround sounds throughout the entire length of the film. Rockets and gunfire explode around the viewer during many key scenes. Though this is a far from perfect sound mix, overall the track is free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.

For those who loved I Spy, you're in for a minor treat: Columbia has included a few extra features for those want to know more about the film. The rest of us can retch in peace. Here's a rundown of what's on the disc:

Commentary by Director Betty Thomas, Editor Peter Teschner, Producer Jenno Topping, and Writers David Ronn and Jay Scherick: I can heartily recommend this commentary track over the actual film. All of the participants seem to really have fun talking to each other and discussing various aspects of the film's production. They also have a nice sense of humor, as when one shot shows a building in a frozen tundra and one participant quips "wasn't that from The Empire Strikes Back?" This is a far better commentary track than this film deserves.

Four Featurettes: "Cloak and Camouflage," "Gadgets and Gizmos," "Schematics and Blueprints," and "The Slugfest": Each of these short featurettes focuses on various aspects of the film, including the costumes, the props and weapons, the locations, and the boxing fights featuring Murphy looking unusually buff. Each of these include a few behind-the-scenes shots, clips from the film, and interviews with folks like the director Thomas, Murphy, director of photography Oliver Wood, fight choreographer Darryl Foster, and many more. These are all very insubstantial promotional items that sport only a few interesting tidbits on the making of the film (the feature about the boxing scenes held my attention the longest).

Trailers: Five trailers are included under this section: Blue Streak, National Security, Formula 51, Punch Drunk Love, and Adaptation. Oddly enough, the trailer for I Spy is conspicuously missing.

Closing Statement

You're better off catching the TV series than this misfire of a movie. Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy's talents are sorely wasted on a gratuitously boring screenplay and by-the-numbers action sequences. However, Columbia's work on this disc is pretty good. I guess that's some consolation, right? Maybe not…

The Verdict

I Spy is sentenced to two year watching reruns of the original I Spy TV series. Case dismissed!

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 92
Extras: 83
Acting: 76
Story: 60
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• English
• French
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary Track by Director Betty Thomas, , Editor Peter Teschner, Producer Jenno Topping, and Writers David Ronn and Jay Scherick
• Four Featurettes
• Theatrical Trailers


• IMDb
• Official Site

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Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.