A special agent and a middleweight boxer are paired for a mission to recover a reconnaissance aircraft from a rogue terrorist with access to nuclear warheads.
The United States government wants its reconnaissance aircraft back from arms dealer Arnold Gundars (Malcolm MacDowell) but Gundars plans on selling the spy plane to the highest bidder--in this case, a terrorist with access to nuclear warheads. The plan is to get U.S. special agent Alex Scott (Owen Wilson) into Gundars' headquarters in Budapest where he is throwing a party the night before a boxing match taking place in the Hungarian capital. It turns out that Gundars is an avid boxing fan and is staging a fight between middleweight champion Kelly Robinson (Eddie Murphy) and the reigning European champ, so, in the most improbable move ever (even by Hollywood standards), the president enlists Robinson's help to nail the bad guys. Robinson is to provide civilian cover for Scott once he has infiltrated the party, where the agent is supposed to gather info about the aircraft, which is equipped with a built-in cloaking device that allows it to become virtually invisible. It's surprising that a film is so utterly ridiculous could be so unfunny.
The pairing of Murphy and Wilson is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but fails in practice. Their performances are all right, but the script doesn't demand anything of them and expects the duo to be funny simply because they are opposites. Murphy portrays a foul-mouthed egomaniac athlete who travels with a huge entourage that dotes on his every need. He delivers his lines in the fast-talking manner that has become his trademark, and while a lot of them are funny, they are too blatantly set up and predictable. Wilson portrays a goofy and laid-back guy who is supposed to be funny because he whines a lot about not having good spy gadgets. Although Wilson suits Alex's character, his blasé delivery makes it hard to buy that he's really a secret agent. Murphy and Wilson have a good rapport, but whatever chemistry they have going gets squandered here. Famke Janssen (Don't Say a Word) serves as a love interest for Alex in the pretty bland role of Rachel; it's not surprising sparks never fly between the two. MacDowell's Gundars, meanwhile, is your cookie-cutter ultra-slick villain.
Director Betty Thomas (28 Days, Dr. Dolittle) stays true to I Spy's bad script by delivering an equally bad movie and proving that odd couplings do not automatically generate laughs. It's impossible to enjoy Wilson and Murphy's performances here because the story's absurdity gets in the way. Are we supposed to believe that a government savvy enough to develop a prototype aircraft with cloaking capabilities is the same ruling body that would not only lose it, but then come up which such a hair brained scheme to get it back? And once Agent Scott gets into the party, does he only keep Robinson around for the sole purpose of foiling every plan? Thomas was going for a parody of the world of espionage and high-tech spy gadgetry, but instead offers a moronic tale complete with bumbling idiots, unimaginative villains and ridiculous gadgets. The only positive thing about the film is that you won't remember what it was all about by the time you hit the sidewalk.
I Spy is so inane it wouldn't even fly as a Saturday morning cartoon. Pass this one up and save the price of admission.