Spies in Disguise

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Spies in Disguise
dir Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
scr Brad Copeland, Lloyd Taylor
prd Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Michael J Travers
voices Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Rachel Brosnahan, Reba McEntire, Masi Oka, Carla Jimenez, Peter S Kim, Rashawn Nadine Scott
release US 25.Dec.19,
UK 26.Dec.19
19/US Fox 1h41

smith holland jones

Spies in Disguise
Fast-paced, utterly ridiculous and disarmingly adorable, this witty spy movie pastiche is propelled by the charm of its cast and the sharply amusing animation. It even has a solid weird-is-good message, and explores ways to find justice without continuing the cycle of violence, slightly undermined by the carnage in the story. But it's thoroughly enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way, leaving us hoping that a franchise is born.
Swaggering spy Lance (Smith) is a rock star at his secret Washington DC agency, but he's being framed as a rogue agent by a nefarious, metal-handed thug (Mendelsohn). On the run, Lance turns to the nerd Walter (Holland), whom he just got fired because his gadgets aim to take down villains without physical violence (hello glitter kitty!). Then Walter's DNA-altering potion turns Lance into a pigeon, just as they chase Robo-Hand to Mexico, Venice and a secret North Sea lair, pursued by tenacious Internal Affairs agent Marcy (Jones) and her sidekicks (Gillan and Khaled).
The gleefully nutty energy is infectious. Adults might find the nonstop mayhem exhausting, but it's punctuated with gags that are genuinely clever, including some knowing innuendo that will go over the heads of youngsters who are laughing at comedy nudity and bird-poo jokes. The same goes for some of the side characters, who annoyingly barge into scenes. But kids will giggle, certainly unbothered that the plot is a chaotic mess, or that everything is played at full volume.

It helps that the animators add superb details to characters, including subtle facial tics that bring out little edges in the vocal performances. This makes them thoroughly likeable, from pointy-elongated humans to shamelessly cuddly birds. And the script gives the actors something to chew on too, adding complexity to Lance and Walter that allows the audience to identify with their internal journeys. Some of this may feel a bit over-familiar, but it's genuinely resonant.

The point is that even bad guys have loved ones, feelings and yearnings, and efforts to stop them should keep this in mind. This is a strikingly important idea for such a wildly fantastical, cartoonish movie, encouraging viewers to develop some perspective in encounters with people who are different. This also adds an unexpected element of self-awareness as connections evolve between the central characters, obviously setting things up for a sequel. Thankfully, the film is never pushy: it's having far too much fun to preach.

cert pg themes, violence, innuendo 8.Dec.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall