Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, October 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 43° Clear
A&E >  Movies

Entertaining but ephemeral ‘Spies in Disguise’ takes aim at spy film tropes

Tom Holland and Will Smith are the voices of Walter Beckett and Lance Sterling in “Spies in Disguise.” (Twentith Century Fox)
Tom Holland and Will Smith are the voices of Walter Beckett and Lance Sterling in “Spies in Disguise.” (Twentith Century Fox)
By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

Will Smith has had a hit-or-miss year at the movies. His experiment with high-frame-rate action and acting opposite a digital composite of his younger self in Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” didn’t exactly light the world on fire. So it’s nice that he’s closing out the year on a more positive note with the insubstantial but lightly entertaining animated spy feature “Spies in Disguise.”

Longtime animation artists Nick Bruno and Troy Quane make their directorial debuts on the film written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor. The film takes its premise and inspiration from the 2009 animated short by Lucas Martell, “Pigeon: Impossible,” and therein lies all you need to know about “Spies in Disguise,” a strange tonal mashup that turns the hypermasculine, hyperviolent world of glamorous spies, in the vein of James Bond or “Mission: Impossible,” and turns it into kid-friendly family entertainment.

But what becomes apparent is that introducing and then skewering those tropes is at the heart of “Spies in Disguise,” a film that wonders if conflict could be cuddlier and if lone wolves can work as a team or perhaps a flock. Smith voices the smooth Lance Sterling, super spy and the star of his agency, headed up by a tough-talking Southern-twanged boss, Joy Jenkins (Reba McEntire).

On a dangerous mission fighting a nefarious supervillain with a robotic hand (Ben Mendelsohn), he discovers that one of his exploding gadgets has been replaced with kitty holograms and glitter, which are surprisingly effective at incapacitating his would-be assassins, who are overcome with “awww.” Though Sterling emerges victorious, he seeks out the oddball tech who slipped him the kitty glitter, Walter (Tom Holland), and fires him.

The tables are turned when the arrogant Sterling needs Walter’s help to go underground, finding himself at the center of an internal affairs investigation led by the hard-hitting Marcy (Rashida Jones), who has accused Sterling of theft and sabotage. At Walter’s home lab, Sterling gulps down a mysterious liquid and finds himself transformed into a pigeon. On the run from his own agency in avian form, Sterling’s going to have to learn to use his wings – and fast.

Walter is a wunderkind scientist who firmly believes in nonlethal weapons: protective balloons that wrap you up in an inflatable hug, sticky pink bubblegum that stops anyone in their tracks. It takes time for Lance to get on board, but the advantages of life as a pigeon spy soon reveal themselves. It’s through his friendship with Walter, and with the help of a few feathered friends, that Lance learns to embrace friendlier methods, too.

There’s a warm message of companionship and teamwork at the center of “Spies in Disguise,” but what makes it subversive is its emphasis on gentler methods of conflict resolution, or at least less bloody ones. It’s refreshing to see bubbles, bubblegum and lots of kitty glitter defeat murderous robots. But “Spies in Disguise,” despite a fun chemistry between Smith and Holland, is a lot like a soap bubble: pretty to watch, entertaining for a bit, but disappears on contact. It’s entertaining but ephemeral.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter

Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.



New health insurance plans available Nov. 1 through Washington Healthplanfinder

 (Photo courtesy WAHBE)
Sponsored

Fall means the onset of the cold and flu season.