Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4
SPY GAME, directed by Tony Scott (ENEMY OF THE STATE), cries out for a viewer's
cut. If you just wait for video, you'll be able to turn this hit-and-miss movie
into a sizzling thriller. All you need do is hit the fast-forward button about
two minutes into every flashback.
The problem with the movie is directly attributable to the construction of the
screenplay by Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata. They create a mesmerizing
view of operations within the CIA, seething with intrigue as the new kids on the
block try to outfox a retiring veteran named Nathan Muir (Robert Redford).
But every time the story catches fire, the script switches to very long
flashbacks that are confusing and never give us any reason to care about the
people involved. These mind-numbing incidents effectively throw water on the
story, causing it to smolder.
The plot concerns a rogue agent, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt), who has been captured
by the Chinese while trying to extract a prisoner. The CIA has 24 hours to
obtain his release or he will be executed. They pull in Muir on his retirement
day -- how many times have we seen that in the movies? -- so that he can give
background on Bishop, whom he recruited and trained. The largely unnecessary
flashbacks show Bishop's operations in Vietnam, Germany and a painfully long
incident in Beirut.
Redford, last seen even more impressively in THE LAST CASTLE, is great in SPY
GAME and easily acts circles around Pitt. Redford is good in the long, rambling
flashbacks, even though the episodes themselves serve mainly to waste time.
Back at CIA headquarters, Muir chews up the opposition, led by young hotshot
Charles Harker (Stephen Dillane). Muir isn't just one step ahead of his
coworkers, he's miles ahead.
The script loves lines that mean the exact opposite. "If you go off the
reservation, I will not come after you," Muir lectures Bishop at an improbable
meeting set on a rooftop. As soon as he says this, you know that Muir will risk
everything to rescue Bishop. Actually, the script telegraphs where it is going
from the beginning so this line doesn't represent much of a revelation.
Towards the end, the script begins to run out of gas until it gets to the CIA
task force's final comeuppance by Muir as he completely outwits everyone. After
Muir's last brilliant stroke, he can't think of anything better than a clichéd,
"Do you remember when we could tell the good guys from the bad?" At a time when
it is clear that our country desperately needs a much larger and more aggressive
spy agency, SPY GAME seems awkwardly dated.
SPY GAME runs way too long at 2:06. It is rated R for "language, some violence
and brief sexuality" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
My son Jeffrey, age 12, gave it **. He liked the action at CIA headquarters but
found the flashbacks too long and uninteresting. Overall, he thought the story
was just too predictable and needed to be set more in the present.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes