|Spies Like Us|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 10 November 1998|
Director John Landis is responsible for revitalizing the teen college comedy with 'Animal House,' reinventing the whole concept of comedy/horror in 'American Werewolf in London' and being among the first filmmakers to showcase the work of makeup effects hero Rick Baker. In other words, the man has achieved enough to warrant being cut some slack.
In fact, 'Spies Like Us' isn't offensive, mean-spirited or even particularly dumb. It just slides back and forth from being mildly amusing to pretty dull, with a few bits of good plotting and respectable visual effects to make us think that under other circumstances, it could have been a whole lot better.
Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, in their first feature together post-"Saturday Night Live," respectively play Austin and Emmett, two low-level U.S. government functionaries who are given completely unexpected promotions to top-secret status. Unbeknownst to the pair, they are meant to serve as expendable decoys while a pair of real super-agents carry out a mission overseas.
There's nothing wrong with the premise of the script by Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, from a story Aykroyd wrote with Dave Thomas, but the jokes seem either too obvious or too muted. Watching Austin and Emmett fumble through every obstacle in their path becomes fairly predictable. Chase's smarmy screen persona is entertaining in small doses, but the film unwisely pauses to give him love scenes; Aykroyd's earnest, socially inept techno-whiz is more likable, but 'Spies Like Us' doesn't quite seem to know what to do with him.
The film has its moments. In Chapter 1, it opens with a great set of visual contrasts: vivid green and red against stark white and black. Chapter 10 has some aurally notable gunfire and Chapter 15 has some 'Raiders of the Lost'-style car-and-horse chase action that's worth looking at for its stuntwork. Chapter 26 has rocket-launching opticals that become more impressive when you remember 'Spies Like Us' was made in 1985.
Landis has cast the film so that we can play spot-the-filmmaker from start to finish: turning up onscreen in cameos are Costa Gavras, Frank Oz, Terry Gilliam, Derek Meddings, Ray Harryhausen, Joel Coen (of the 'Fargo' Coen Brothers), Sam Raimi, Larry Cohen (of 'Q' fame, not a Coen Brother), Michael Apted and Martin Brest, to name a few. Even Bob Hope turns up in a brief tip of the hat to the sort of old-fashioned squabbling buddy movie that 'Spies Like Us' doesn't manage to be.