|Spies Like Us|
Theatrical release poster illustrated by John Alvin
|Directed by||John Landis|
|Edited by||Malcolm Campbell|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$77.3 million|
Spies Like Us is a 1985 American comedy film directed by John Landis and starring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, and Donna Dixon. The film presents the comic adventures of two novice intelligence agents sent to the Soviet Union. Originally written by Aykroyd and Dave Thomas to star Aykroyd and John Belushi at Universal, the script went into turnaround and was later picked up by Warner Bros. with Aykroyd and Chase starring.
The film is an homage to the famous Road to ... film series which starred Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope himself makes a cameo in one scene. Other cameos in the film include directors Terry Gilliam, Sam Raimi, Costa-Gavras, Martin Brest, and Joel Coen, musician B.B. King, and visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
Austin Millbarge is a basement-dwelling codebreaker at the Pentagon who aspires to escape his under-respected job to become a secret agent. Emmett Fitz-Hume, a wisecracking, pencil-pushing son of an envoy, takes the foreign service exam under peer pressure. Millbarge and Fitz-Hume meet during the test, on which Fitz-Hume openly attempts to cheat after an attempt to bribe his immediate supervisor in exchange for the answers backfires. Millbarge, however, was forced to take the test, having had only one day to prepare after his supervisor gives him a two-week-old notice leaving him vulnerable to fail and having to stay in the Pentagon trenches.
Needing expendable agents to act as decoys to draw attention away from a more capable team, the DIA decides to enlist the two, promote them to be Foreign Service operatives, put them through minimal training, and then send them on an undefined mission into Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, professional agents are well on their way to reaching the real objective: the seizure of a mobile SS-50 ICBM launcher. The main team takes a loss, while Millbarge and Fitz-Hume escape enemy attacks and eventually encounter Karen Boyer, the only surviving operative from the main team.
In the Pamir Mountains of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, the trio overpowers a mobile missile guard unit using hastily constructed extraterrestrial outfits and tranquilizer guns. Following orders in real-time from the intelligence agency (operating from a military bunker located deep under an abandoned drive-in theater), they begin to operate the launcher. At the end of their instructions, the vehicle launches the ICBM into space, targeting an unspecified area in the United States. Thinking they have started a nuclear war, the American agents and their Soviet counterparts pair up to have sex before the world ends.
Meanwhile, the military commander at the operations bunker initiates the conversion of the drive-in theater to expose what is hidden beneath the screens and projection booth: a huge black-op SDI-esque laser and collector/emitter screen. The purpose of sending the agents to launch a Soviet ICBM is exposed as a means to test this anti-ballistic missile system. The laser fails to intercept the nuclear missile, which will almost certainly trigger a global thermonuclear war.
One of the military commanders at the site then reveals an elaborate plan to "preserve the American way of life". The covert operations conducted throughout the film are now assumed to be a plot by high-ranking military officials to orchestrate a war.
Back in the Soviet Union, horrified at the thought of having launched a nuclear missile at their own country, the American spies and the Soviet soldiers use Millbarge's technical knowledge to transmit instructions to the traveling missile, sending it off into space where it detonates harmlessly. Immediately after, the underground bunker is stormed by U.S. Army Rangers, and the intelligence and military officials involved in the covert operation are arrested. Millbarge, Fitz-Hume, and Boyer go on to become nuclear disarmament negotiators, playing a nuclear version of Risk-meets-Trivial Pursuit against the Soviets.
The title song, "Spies Like Us", was written and performed by Paul McCartney. It reached #7 on the singles chart in the United States in early 1986. It also reached #13 in the UK. John Landis directed a music video for the song where Aykroyd and Chase can be seen performing the song with McCartney (although they didn't actually play on the record).
The film's score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and performed by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. The soundtrack album was released by Varèse Sarabande; it does not contain the Paul McCartney song. The film also featured "Soul Finger," by the Bar-Kays, also absent from the soundtrack. Fitz-Hume watches Ronald Reagan singing "I'll Be Loving You" from the musical She's Working Her Way Through College early in the film.
The film was a box office success. It grossed $8,614,039 on the U.S. opening weekend and it grossed $60,088,980 in the United States and Canada versus a budget of $22 million. The film grossed $17.2 million overseas for a worldwide gross of $77.3 million.
The Washington Post critic Paul Attanasio called Spies Like Us "a comedy with exactly one laugh, and those among you given to Easter egg hunts may feel free to try and find it." The Chicago Reader critic Dave Kehr criticized the film's character development, saying that "Landis never bothers to account for the friendship that springs up spontaneously between these two antipathetic types, but then he never bothers to account for anything in this loose progression of recycled Abbott and Costello riffs."The New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote, "The stars are always affable, and they're worth watching even when they do very little, but it's painful to sit by as the screenplay runs out of steam."
Variety magazine opined in a staff review, "Spies is not very amusing. Though Chase and Aykroyd provide moments, the overall script thinly takes on eccentric espionage and nuclear madness, with nothing new to add."TV Guide published a staff review which stated, "Landis' direction is indulgent, to say the least, with big landscapes, big crashes, big hardware, and big gags filling the screen. What he forgets is character development, that all-important factor that must exist for comedy to work well." David Parkinson, writing for the Radio Times, felt that "Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase simply fail to gel, and there's little fun to be had once the boisterous training school gags are exhausted."
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 32%, based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 4.38/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite the comedic prowess of its director and two leads, Spies Like Us appears to disavow all knowledge of how to make the viewer laugh."Metacritic gives the film a score of 22 out of 100, based on 9 critics, which indicates "Generally unfavorable reviews". Writing for Common Sense Media, Andrea Beach called the film a "dated '80s comedy [with] strong language, few laughs."Collider staff writer Jeff Giles, reviewing the film's Blu-ray Disc release, stated, "on the whole, it's more amusing than funny; it's only 102 minutes, but it feels too long by half. For all the talent involved, there's an awful lot of flab. It's the kind of movie you can walk away from for 10 minutes without missing anything important."
The animated comedy series Family Guy paid tribute to the film with its 2009 episode "Spies Reminiscent of Us", which guest starred Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase as fictionalized versions of themselves who, according to the series, were made real spies by Ronald Reagan after he saw the film Spies Like Us. The episode recreates numerous scenes from the film.
The live-action spy comedy series Chuck was heavily influenced by Spies, including references to "GLG-20" and the introduction of character Emmett Millbarge (Tony Hale), combined from the names of the Spies protagonists.