Framed for stealing a list of the world’s secret agents, super suave spy Lance Sterling (Will Smith) goes on the run, seeking help from Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), the young, idealistic tech expert he previously had fired.
Yet things get complicated when one of Walter’s gadgets turns Lance into a pigeon and the mismatched pair have to work together to save the secret service from a killer drone.
By Ian Freer | Posted 19 hours agoRelease Date:09 Aug 2019
Spies In Disguise is always enjoyable if rarely innovative. Inspired by Lucas Martell’s charming 2009 short Pigeon: Impossible — a pigeon gets trapped in a secret agent’s gadget-filled briefcase — debutante directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane’s film spins a different story out of the elements of birds and espionage, mixing Bondian parody, body-swap comedy and mismatched buddy bonding. In that Blue Sky (Ice Age, Rio) colourful-but-slightly-bland house style, it’s undemanding fun but never delivers on the promise of the premise.
As you’d expect, Spies In Disguise hits every 007/M:I trope imaginable, from a pre-credit mission where Lance takes on a version of Kill Bill’s Crazy 88, to a bombastic ’70s-styled title sequence, a MacGuffin (a list of the whereabouts of secret agents that similarly formed the plot of Skyfall), underground bases (Lance’s HQ is hidden beneath the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool), globetrotting (Japan, Mexico, Venice) and a villain with a prosthetic limb (Ben Mendelsohn’s Killian has a clawed hand).
The tweak is in the gadgetry which sees Walter’s gizmos as instruments of peace rather than weapons of war. You can’t imagine Daniel Craig unleashing Kitty Glitter, which disables assailants through the soothing power of glitter and kittens, any time soon.
There is something refreshing about a kids’ action flick built on progressive ideas of pacifism, mediation and gluten-free breadcrumbs.
The story moves along efficiently — as well as being a bird, Lance is pursued by Internal Affairs operatives (led by Rashida Jones’ Marcy) who believe he has the missing list — but never imbues its action with real wit (familiar gags about Nickelback) or true invention: being flung about in slow motion inside a spiralling car (to the strains of The Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’) is an over-played comedy lick by now. Set-pieces, including interrogating an arms dealer in a Mexico hotel or escaping drones in Venice, work well enough but never really catch fire. The film also contains a lot of competing thematic material. Is it a film about embracing your weird side (Walter’s arc)? Or learning to work in a team (Lance’s flaw)? The film never resolves the disparate ideas.
Still, there’s broad fun to be had with a tiny avian agent struggling in a big world (watch him try to get into his hi-tech car), the character chemistry, playing heavily on Smith’s cocky cool and Holland’s gee-whizz exuberance, registers (this might be the first animated film to use “millennial” as an insult), and there is something refreshing about a kids’ action flick built on progressive ideas of pacifism, mediation and gluten-free breadcrumbs. Just let’s up the quality gag quotient for ‘Spies In Disguise 2: No Time To Fly’.
SPONSORED CONTENTSubscribe to Empire and never miss an issue! Get Empire’s Rise of…By EmpireBetter in conception than execution, Spies In Disguise never really gets the best out of its James Bond Is A Pigeon high concept. The result is entertaining while it lasts, but won’t lodge itself permanently in your memory bank.