Sunday, December 29, 2019

Spies in Disguise

It's taken a while, but Will Smith seems to be getting back to using the fact that he is Will Smith and people like that with a vengeance. I swear, that aside from Men in Black 3 in 2012, Hitch in 2005 was the last time he made a movie that really turned on him being a movie star rather than an actor, and while being an actor is generally thought to be more important, there's value in a persona that needs no ramp-up for movies like this. What's crazy is that after 14 years of Smith not doing this sort of thing, he's got Aladdin, Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise, and Bad Boys for Life back-to-back, all of which rely on him being the guy you know to some extent or other. Is it just timing, or has he seen his career languish and need that boost?

The movie itself has been pushed around a lot as Disney tinkered with the schedules of their various imprints after the Fox acquisition, and for a while the trailer that was showing just had the Blue Sky Studios logo, not Twentieth Century Fox. I wonder what this means for the future of the studio; I certainly haven't paid much attention to it for a while, especially since there doesn't seem to be a second Peanuts movie in the offing, and kind of wonder if Disney needs a third animation banner. If my experience with this sort of acquisition is any guide, they'll probably just starve Blue Sky, letting current projects finish and maybe moving people over to Pixar or WD Feature Animation, although I suppose you could carve a different niche out with it - outside properties, driven more by voice talent than the prestige labels, something closer to DreamWorks. I'm not sure what I think of that option - if they ramp production up, they could really choke out the rest of the industry.

One more thing that came to me while watching is trailers: It's a bit of a bummer to me that there wasn't a trailer for Weathering with You in front of this, because I want the new Shinkai exposed to every possible portion of its prospective audience, and some of the other kid-movie trailers are not great. Exclude the January crud, and there's the also-long-delayed Artemis Fowl, which has me hoping that Kenneth Branagh can consolidate all the studio goodwill he's accrued at Disney, Fox, and Marvel to do some big-budget Imax version of The Tempest because that sure doesn't look good, as well as Scoob!, which looks 90% nifty except that Scooby Doo talks too much and too clearly (he should be a dog that talks a bit, not a dog-shaped person).

The Spies in Disguise

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #4 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

A Christmas Day release doesn't normally feel like something being dumped, but Disney buying Fox leads to some weird situations, like what to do with this movie - heck, what to do with the entire division that made it. It's a bit too good to be buried but also not the sort of thing that's a priority for the combined company. It's big, loud, and slick, but the sort of thing that falls in between being a movie for kids and one for adults rather than encompassing both.

It starts by introducing what's already an odd mismatch - Lance Sterling (voice of Will Smith) is a James Bond-esque super-spy with a tendency to treat every situation like the chance for an action set-piece, while Walter Beckett (voice of Tom Holland) is an Agency science prodigy barely out of his teens developing more humane gadgets for the likes of Sterling to use. Not that Sterling wants anything to do with that until he's framed by a former enemy (voice of Ben Mendelsohn) who has face-changing tech in addition to a robot arm, at which point he wants Walter's next-generation camouflage invention to help him chase down the villain while staying ahead of an internal affairs team (voices of Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and DJ Khaled). When it turns him into a pigeon, he wants it even less, especially because that means Walter has to tag along to synthesize an antidote.

Lots of family-targeted movies have an odd combination of grown-up material and kid-friendly whimsy, and while there are further stretches than the sort of spy-movie action that leaves a substantial body count and turning people into pigeons, it's sort of a weird combo: Have the kids seen the movies that Spies in Disguise is spoofing, and are the people who do like that sort of thing going to go for a genuinely goofy take? Is either group going to laugh that hard at jokes about Korean dramas or punning off the name "50 Shades of Gray" with anything more than "I recognize that"? Part of the joy of cartooning is the ability to indulge in pure randomness, but that scattershot approach sometimes means that you've got to have a fairly broad range of pop-culture fandom to laugh continually, and also tends to make the moments when the filmmakers are a little more serious dramatic bits on the same level as the comic ones, rather than a story that can hold the movie together.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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