Director: Irvin Kershner
Screenplay: Malcolm Marmorstein, Lawrence Cohen & Fred Freeman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Zou Zou, Joss Ackland
Running Time: 99 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
CIA miscreants Douglas Griffin (Elliot Gould) and Eric Brulard (Donald Sutherland) are blissfully unaware of each other’s existence until they both turn up at the same pissoir (public toilet) in Paris in search of a mysterious hidden package. When it turns out to be a bomb and they’re almost killed by it, due to a ‘clerical error’ by their own people, they complain to their boss (Joss Ackland) and are given an easy mission (together) to baby-sit a Russian defector who also happens to be an athlete.
Unsurprisingly, because they are so different, personality-wise, Griff and Bruland don’t hit it off to start with, until a series of misadventures and shared pit-falls bring them closer together in classic buddy movie fashion.
S*P*Y*S is an odd film. It’s obviously trying to be a cold war comedy thriller, but sadly fails at either being thrilling or particularly funny. There are some amusing moments, such as seeing our two mega stars examining a dog for secret information, and some of the dialogue is mildly funny, but overall the humour falls a bit flat. Often it feels like everyone’s trying too hard and at times the acting feels almost ‘hyper-real’. As for the thriller elements, sadly, for the most part, the most thrilling part of the film is seeing if one spy’s pet dog will actually take a dump in a posh restaurant or not while his owner feeds him veal.
Kershner’s direction in this is a bit journeyman-like, although there are some great locations and a fairly cool car chase, which is played for comedy effect when one of the cars ends up becoming just half a car, but still part of the chase. There are also a few plot holes or incidents that don’t really make much sense including a scene whereby our two heroes end up putting a load of money back in a car that then blows up, something they suspected would happen!
I’d really wanted to like S*P*Y*S because I’m a fan of Gould and Sutherland, but the film never really works. It’s just not funny enough to work as a comedy or exciting enough to be a good spy movie. However, if you do like watching this pair of usually reliable actors then it’s probably worth a punt, just don’t expect too much. It was nice to see the two stars and Ackland for that matter, when they were still quite young. Additionally, early seventies ‘IT’ girl, Zou Zou, certainly scrubs up nicely as Donald’s terrorist girlfriend. The scene with ‘three in the bed’ is quite amusing.
Network have done a decent job of cleaning up the print and after an initial bit of grain the general picture quality is good throughout, although the sound can be a little soft at times.
S*P*Y*S has recently been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.
If you’re listening Network, other films you might want to track down are Peter Maxwell’s Dilemma (1962); Offbeat (1961) – directed by Cliff Owen; The Singer not the Song (1960) – with Dirk Bogarde; Harley Cokeliss’s The Glitterball (1977); and Hennessy (1975), directed by Don Sharp.
The only extras on the review disc were an admittedly cool trailer, which makes the film look really good and references the two main actor’s earlier team-up in M.A.S.H, and a gallery replete with two posters for the film and 13 stills from the movie.