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'Spy' Tries a Bit Too Hard to Spoof Bond, Pop Culture


Another day, another bewilderingly convoluted, not-funny-enough spy flick. Two days after "Mission: Impossible" opens to critical shrugs, along comes "Spy Hard," with a plot that makes as little sense as its predecessor and suffers from a similar lack of inspiration in the scripting.

That "Spy Hard" stars Leslie Nielsen does not mean that it should be confused with the high-energy loopiness of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker "Airplane!" and "Naked Gun" movies that unleashed his comic genius, although apparently one of "Spy Hard's" four screenwriters spent some time in the same room as those guys 20 years ago.

This movie unfortunately wastes a perfectly promising idea--satirizing James Bond films along with any other pop-culture celluloid phenomenon that crosses the filmmakers' minds. It could have used several more passes on the screenplay to strengthen the gags and flesh out the characters. Editing is sloppy, too.

Most tellingly, the scene spoofing the Q invention sequences in Bond movies isn't nearly as funny as they usually are in the Bond films themselves. And anyway, the ZAZ boys did their own spy parody, "Top Secret!," a dozen years back. (A bad omen: No one bothered to see that one either.)


Most inspired here is the opening title sequence, mocking the stylized babe-fests of the Bond movies--admittedly a long overdue target--with the requisite silhouettes of curvy females, joined by a good many non-titillating and frankly bizarre silhouettes.

Weird Al Yankovic gamely parodies the traditionally bombastic Bond song, but nothing has skewered that peculiar musical genre as perfectly as the theme from "Monty Python's Life of Brian."

After that, it's time to sit back and watch everyone go through the motions. Nielsen is Dick Steele, Agent WD-40 (actually, that alone tells you pretty much all you need to know about where this is headed).

His long-thought-dead arch-nemesis, Col. Rancor (Andy Griffith, pouring far more zeal into the role than it deserves), is planning to destroy the world with a missile. The Director (Charles Durning), a paranoid master of disguise, talks Steele out of retirement to save the planet (the filmmakers, at least, get a good laugh out of using the Team Disney building on the studio's lot as spy headquarters).

Attractive women are strewn across the landscape to advance the plot in artificial ways and serve as eye candy, just as in the Bond movies (oh, who are we fooling: just as in almost every Hollywood movie).


Indicative of the paucity of effort that went into this movie is the fact that no character has any defining characteristics. Is Steele a brilliant spy or an imbecile? No way of telling here. Nor do any of the supporting characters' quirky personality tics--the director's obsession with hiding, even in his own office; Steele's driver's ever-changing parade of automobiles and witless homilies--actually make them remotely interesting.

As with many of these parody movies, the throwaway gags are routinely more amusing than the ones the filmmakers build up. For example, in one scene, an annoying person boards an airplane and causes much blustery consternation for Steele and a flight attendant until Steele fixes his wagon. In the background, someone stows an infant in an overhead carry-on luggage bin.

The latter joke gets more laughs, not the least because the filmmakers weren't selling it so desperately. "Spy Hard" may try hard, but it succeeds far too infrequently.

* MPAA-rating: PG-13, for crude humor and sexual innuendo. Times guidelines: pretty tame, though by its very nature it's fairly sexist.


'Spy Hard'

Leslie Nielsen: Dick Steele

Nicolette Sheridan: Veronica

Andy Griffith: Rancor

A Hollywood Pictures presentation of a Friedberg/Draizin/Konvitz production, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director Rick Friedberg. Producer Rick Friedberg, Doug Draizin, Jeffrey Konvitz. Executive producer Robert L. Rosen, Leslie Nielsen. Screenplay by Rick Friedberg, Dick Chudnow, Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Editor Eric Sears. Costumes Tom Bronson. Music Bill Conti. Production design William Creber. Art director William J. Durrell Jr. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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