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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
I Spy (2002) (2002)

"Size matters, but in the spy world it is the opposite. You want them to go 'look how small that is,' not 'look how gigantic it is.' My stuff looks like you could get it at Radio Shack in 1972."
- Alex Scott (Owen Wilson)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: March 09, 2003

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson
Other Stars: Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell, Gary Cole
Director: Betty Thomas

Manufacturer: DVDl
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for action violence, some sexual content, and language
Run Time: 01h:37m:14s
Release Date: March 11, 2003
UPC: 043396087064
Genre: action comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+A-A- B

DVD Review

Alex Scott (Wilson) is a recently promoted special agent whose last mission ended in disaster: Assigned to retrieve a rogue pilot who sold off a super secret spy plane that has the ability to be invisible, Scott fails. In the process, he got the pilot killed before he could tell Scott exactly where to find the plane; what Scott does know is that an arms dealer named Arnold Gundars (McDowell) has it. This brings us to Kelly Robinson (Murphy), a boxer who has won a string of fights and is scheduled for a bout in Budapest within the next week as part of a promotional stunt. As luck would have it, Gundars is a boxing fanatic, so who better to help Scott get close to Gundars than Robinson. Throw in sexy agent Rachel (Janssen), and a comically over-the-top super spy named Carlos (Cole), and you have a roughshod assembly of the plot for this updated I-Spy.

You have to wonder why film studios continue to remake classic television shows by shifting the plot and characters to a point where only the name is coincidental with the original incarnation. I-Spy is the latest example of this unsettling trend; the races of the characters are switched, their backgrounds are loosely similar, and they have a chance to save the world. There, in setups that happen within the first fifteen minutes, you have the similarities to the original Bill Cosby/Robert Culp classic. What makes this particularly strange is that the director, Betty Thomas, gave mirror-image big screen life to a feature-length Brady Bunch group.

Truth be told, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Thomas told of her desire to change the title as she had no interest in disappointing those expecting something that the film was not. The studio stuck to their guns, proclaiming that they spent too much money for the rights to the title. Thus, the film was released under the franchised name and fans were undoubtedly disappointed. Those who need assurance in the validity of the previous statement can look to the film's thirty-three million dollar box office gross for proof.

And yet, by understanding that only a name is shared between the film and television series, I-Spy is a lot of fun. By utilizing the incredible amount of chemistry provided by Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, the movie excels by providing an outlet for these truly gifted comedians. The film itself, though, is rather curious in its construction. Thomas feels comfortable with the comedy aspect, and it works very well, but her direction of the action scenes brings the film to a screeching halt. While watching Alex and Kelly race through Budapest via scooter or car-carrier is fun, it lasts only for a moment until the next awkward cut or unnecessary explosion makes you long for the sequence to just be over with.

Had Thomas decided to usher out the action sequences and made the film more about spying and being inconspicuous, the entire tone of the film could have remained a constant pleasure. Wilson, who is becoming one of the best young actors working today, has some hysterical scenes that cause great laughter. One in which he is complaining about his preference of the gadget makers for Carlos is priceless, while his schoolboy crush over Rachel has a sort of bittersweet quality. Murphy is also given chances to shine, but the reason these scenes work so well is because of Wilson. A pair of scenes that feature the two bonding in a sewer or even a Cyrano de Bergerac-like moment featuring Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing are heavily reliant on Wilson's leadership, which he displays with ease and grace.

Sure, it has mindless action, a megalomaniacal arms dealer, and a double- (or maybe triple-) cross you can see coming a mile away. But it also has Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy playing off of one another like a pair of old friends to wonderful results.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a sparkling 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer I-Spy is easily one of the best transfers I have seen so far this year. Colors are vibrant and really pop off the screen with no bleeding evident. Black levels are solid with no grain visible. Sharpness and detail are spot on, so perfect in fact that a scene I witnessed in the movie theater looked less clear than it does on this DVD. Edge enhancement is never a factor, while some compression artifacts are evident due to the housing of a full-frame transfer on the same disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for I-Spy is a constant bevy of activity throughout. From the opening shootout in the woods to one in a bathhouse, the mix is constantly enveloping and alive. The track does a nice job of placing the action throughout the room; when guns are fired at the viewer in the opening scenes the impact of the shots is perfectly placed over your left shoulder. I know that this is the idea of Dolby Digital, but for the first time in a long while it was nice to hear the sound mixed so precisely, rather than hearing the impact in each speaker. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, though it does occasionally have trouble blending with the other elements.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Punch Drunk Love, Adaptation, Blue Streak, Formula 51,National Security
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Betty Thomas, producer Jenno Toppin, writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn, and editor Peter Teschner
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: I-Spy leads off a short list of extra features with a commentary track by director Betty Thomas, writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn, producer Jenno Topping and editor Peter Teschner. The track has a light atmosphere, which is enjoyable for a brief while; soon enough, it becomes tiresome. I appreciate the fact that the group shares their thoughts on what worked and what did not work throughout the film, but too often the participants seem to be injecting too much praise for the cast, the crew, and each other.

Next up are a series of four featurettes that run a short four minutes, on average. The first is Cloak and Camouflage, which takes a look at the costumes used in the film; not very exciting stuff but short and to the point, nonetheless. Gadgets and Gizmos is just that, a look at the special effects and gadgets that were created for I-Spy. This short takes a look most notably at the process used to make the cloaking plane look believable. Schematics and Blueprints is simply a look at location shooting with interviews of Thomas and the producers. The last is The Slugafest,, which is interesting if only because it introduces the fact that the Robinson character was supposed to be a basketball player at one point in time. Murphy discusses his long fascination with boxing, as well as his ability to effectively portray a pugilist.

Rounding out the disc are a series of trailers that include Punch Drunk Love, Adaptation, Formula 51, National Security, and Blue Streak. Each is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and various aspect ratios. The trailer for I-Spy is not featured.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

It is unlikely that I-Spy will go down in the annals of history as a great film, but you have to admire the comedic ease with which Wilson and Murphy operate. This film is a chance to see two of the funniest and sharpest comic actors working today in a vehicle that suits their talents. Wilson should be used to this; Murphy, on the other hand, is just now coming away from The Adventures of Pluto Nash, lest you forget.


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