Spies Like Us: Movie Review
Spies Like Us stars Chevy Chase as Emmett Fitz-Hume and Dan Aykroyd as Austin Millbarge. It was directed by John Landis from a screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and others. It was released in 1985 and is often mentioned as a cult classic.
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Spies Like Us: Logline
US intelligence promote two incompetents, give them perfunctory training and send them to draw attention away from real spies. But when the real spies are killed, the hapless dupes must carry out the mission for real.
Spies Like Us: Plot Summary
An American intelligence agency (disguised as the Ace Tomato Company) has located a new model of Soviet ICBM launcher and decides to send an elite team of secret agents to investigate it. But Soviet counter-intelligence has been having a lot of success, so the agency decide to find a couple of expendable employees, train them as spies and send them to draw attention away from the real mission.
Despite being a genius, Austin Millbarge works in a low level job in the Pentagon. Emmett Fitz-Hume is the son of an diplomat who doesn’t take his job seriously. They both take the foreign service exam. Fitz-Hume tries to cheat, Millbarge becomes involved and they both fail. This makes them ideal patsies.
The two are given perfunctory spy training at a special forces base and then parachuted into Pakistan. They are immediately picked up by KGB agents posing as their contacts, but escape. They’re then captured by tribesmen and rescued by a United Nations medical team, that includes a beautiful doctor, Karen Boyer, who Fitz-Hume immediately falls in love with. They pose as surgeons, but after a failed operation on a tribesman, they have to flee again.
They contact their controller, who is surprised to discover they are still alive, but keeps up the pretence by ordering them into the Soviet Union. They see Karen and one of the other UN medics, and realise they must be the real spies. They follow them across the mountains and into the Soviet Union. At the border, Fitz-Hume is captured by the guards. The other spy is killed and so Karen teams up with Millbarge to rescue Fitz-Hume. She persuades them to help her complete the mission.
Disguised as aliens., the three spies find the ICBM they were ordered to locate and tranquillise the guards.
The spies’ controller orders them to enter some instructions into the launcher. This results in the ICBM launching.
The general in charge reveals the spies were sent to launch the ICBM in order to test a US anti-missile laser, show that it works and secure more funding. But the laser misses. Millbarge calculates they have less than an hour until a nuclear war destroys the world. The US general is unconcerned, convinced that the USA will win the war.
The spies and the guards team up. Millbarge realises that he can reprogram the missile in flight, to explode harmlessly in space.
In the USA, the General is arrested.
In the epilogue, Millbarge and Fitz-Hume have returned to the diplomatic service and are seen in friendly competition with their new Soviet friends.
Spies Like Us: Analysis
Spies Like Us is a comedy-thriller with more comedy than thrills. The plot is really an excuse to string together a series of comic scenes, some almost irrelevant to the plot and included purely for laughs, such as the ‘training’ sequence, where sight gags abound. This gives the movie a contrived feel, almost like an extended sketch show. Like a lot of comedies, the audience is supposed to accept the implausibility as part of the comedy. How successful this is depends on the viewer’s opinion of the jokes, which are mostly plays on Fitz-Hume’s cowardice, laziness and general ineptitude.
Where Spies Like Us does shine is its quick-fire one liners. For example when Fitz-Hume is being threatened with torture by the KGB.
KGB agent: For every wrong answer, I cut off a finger.
Fitz-Hume: Mine or yours?
Near the end, the movie does become semi-serious as Millbarge calculates the world has only an hour left until nuclear destruction . The character’s initial response is to pair up and have sex (luckily for the heroes the two hot girls choose them). Originally, this was the ending, giving shades of Doctor Strangelove , but the test audiences didn’t like the sudden lurch into black comedy, and so a new happier ending was added. This is more in keeping with the frivolousness of the rest of the story, Spies Like Us is no Doctor Strangelove and shouldn’t try to be.
Spies Like Us: My Rating
A bit of fun. Fast paced and with lots of jokes, it’s an out and out comedy, so try not to think about the plot too much.
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