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  Spies Like Us Cold Comedy WarBuy this film here.
Year: 1985
Director: John Landis
Stars: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, Donna Dixon, Bruce Davison, Bernie Casey, William Prince, Tom Hatten, Frank Oz, Charles McKeown, James Daughton, Jim Staahl, Vanessa Angel, Svetlana Plotnikova, Bjarne Thomsen, Terry Gilliam, Bob Hope
Genre: Comedy
Rating:  6 (from 4 votes)
Review: A huge Soviet nuclear missile is taken into a remote Russian forest to keep it concealed from the American military's prying eyes, but their spy satellites are too well manufactured and almost immediately send pictures back to the United States Army, which are analysed while the top brass concoct a plan with what to do about it. The simple idea is to contract two sets of spies, one to see about the missile, the other to act as decoys, and they know precisely how to get the fools who can be the latter. There is an examination being staged soon, and it will provide them most adequately...

Here's an odd thing: a film whose spoof is funnier than the film itself. In 2009 Family Guy gave over most of an episode to take advantage of having hired Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd for voice work for a recreation of the plot of Spies Like Us. It helped, of course, if you were watching the cartoon to have seen the source of their parody, but was not essential, as the source was somewhat less than essential in the first place. After Ghostbusters was the hit it was, this Cold War-based follow up, also starring ex-Saturday Night Live cast members, was expected to be a similarly massive success, but as it was not many were all that interested.

This meant that the film gathered a cult of those who rented it on video with presumably low expectations, and seen in the eighties on your television, whether on cassette or broadcast on a station looking to kill a couple of hours it passed the time. It's not that there's much horrendously wrong with it, it's just that it didn't go superbly well, with the odd half decent laugh interspersed with long, barren stretches where you're goodnaturedly indulging the cast and writers without particularly busting a gut. You could sit there psychically willing the jokes to be better, but you'll be wasting your time as everyone knew at the time that the finest way to treat the upcoming nuclear armageddon was through the medium of abject terror.

Chase played Fitz-Hume and Aykroyd played Millbarge, the bumblers whose cheating in that exam means they are hired for a foreign assignment, in effect having them dropped in Pakistan (with parachutes, naturally) and told to do whatever their contacts tell them to. It's a mark of shoddy plotting that this doesn't happen and actually the whole scheme is ramshackle on closer examination, which wouldn't so much matter if you were guffawing at every quip, but does when the film allows your mind to wander. As was often pointed out at the time, Spies Like Us was a tribute to the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road comedies, except one of them doesn't sing, and Hope made his final movie appearance in this for one of those cameos director John Landis was so fond of.

But it was unlikely that this would be held up to the same comedic reverence that previous series had been, and if anything it looks more dated now than, say, Road to Utopia does now. Along the way Fitz-Hume and Aykroyd wander about a desert (actually Morocco) no more clued in as to where this is supposed to be heading than we are, until it turns out that this was no bash the Russkies humorous adventure, but more a "why can't we all get along?" variation, so it was no wonder it failed with Ronald Reagan in the White House, it simply wasn't the kind of thing the American public wanted to hear. This in spite of one of the Russians being played by the comely Vanessa Angel: they were not even taken in by that. With world peace teetering on the brink for the big finale, which sees hawks in the U.S. wanting WW3 rather than standing down, the actual planet was bracing themselves for the real thing and needed something far sharper to provide gallows humour. Music by Elmer Bernstein, with a not very good Paul McCartney theme song.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Landis  (1950 - )

American writer-director who made a big splash in the comedy genre, starting with The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. An American Werewolf in London was an innovative blend of comedy and horror, and remains his best film.

Mega-hit Trading Places followed, but after a tragic accident on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie, Landis' talent seemed to desert him, and he offered up some increasingly unimpressive comedies. He returned briefly to horror with Innocent Blood, and after a long spell away helmed Brit comedy Burke and Hare; he also directed Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "Black or White" videos.

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