Spies Like Us (1985, John Landis)

Spies Like Us ought to be better. The problem is the length. Well, the main problem is the length. Donna Dixon having a big role is another problem.

The movie’s just too short. At 100 minutes, it actually should be just the right length, but there’s a lot Landis skirts over because he doesn’t have enough time.

Unfortunately, a lot of the abbrievated sequences could have laughs–the film’s front-heavy when it comes to laughs. The last act is still amusing, but it doesn’t have anything like the funnier moments from the rest of the film.

The plotting just doesn’t work–the screenwriters are never able to make Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd funny when they get to the Soviet Union. One problem is Dixon–she’s an unfunny third wheel–but they’re also isolated in the wilderness. Not a lot of material around.

The film has some hilarious scenes–Chase disastrously cheating for a test is great and he’s fine as a slacker moron who lucks his way into things. But in the second half, the film plays up his stupidity while establishing Aykroyd is smarter as a fake spy than many real ones. Landis never concentrates on that situation, but it’s obvious.

There’s a lot of good acting. Unfortunately, Bernie Casey isn’t as good as I expected. But Bruce Davison is great as a slimy bureaucrat.

Landis’s direction is solid if unspectacular. The film’s always racing to something, so he never gets to rest.

Decent Elmer Bernstein score too.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; screenplay by Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on a story by Aykroyd and Dave Thomas; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designers, Terry Ackland-Snow and Peter Murton; produced by George Folsey Jr. and Brian Grazer; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Chevy Chase (Emmett Fitz-Hume), Dan Aykroyd (Austin Millbarge), Steve Forrest (General Sline), Donna Dixon (Karen Boyer), Bruce Davison (Ruby), Bernie Casey (Colonel Rhumbus), William Prince (Keyes) and Tom Hatten (General Miegs).

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