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Trouble with Spies, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"'Trouble' is the Right Word"
1 stars

Released two years after production wrapped, it never should've seen the light of day.

In the wretched The Trouble with Spies Donald Sutherland is wildly miscast as the bumbling British secret agent Appleton Porter (great name, though!) who's described by his superior as a "complete dummy," and it never for a second washes because the remarkable Sutherland has long demonstrated such a committed intelligence he's simply incapable of even remotely conveying someone submental. When this was tried before in his over-the-top villainous turns in Bernardo Bertolucci's ghastly 1900 and Hugh Hudson's disastrous Revolution Sutherland was ridiculous-looking and borderline-unwatchable to the execrable point where you were left thinking he had sold his soul to the Devil early on in his career with the price extracted an obligation to outright embarrass himself at least once every few years in roles unctuously unsuited to him. Truth be told, he's not nearly so bad this time around, and that's chiefly because this startlingly inept movie pretty much loses sight that Appleton is supposed to be stupid, which throws the proceedings considerably out of whack where you've no earthly idea how you're supposed to respond to the material - several times you think a drunken projectionist had accidentally switched up the reels. What there is of the bare-bones plot involves Appleton, he of the lowest echelon of the U.K.'s British Intelligence Service's Dirty Tricks division, unknowingly sent to the beautiful Spanish isle of Ibiza to function as a sacrificial decoy so he can be captured by a Russian drug ring manufacturing and selling their product to British military troops both there and abroad, and all so the top agents can then move in under this distraction and put a stop to the operation. Appleton has no real problem surviving because the two Russian agents assigned to take him out are equally bumbling: they even screw up a simple attempt at dropping a heavy flower pot onto him from a mere two stories up while he's lounging below in a patio chair, though one has to admit lowering a deadly scorpion on a string onto Appleton's hotel bed from a hole in the ceiling is kinda inventive. Still, the laugh quotient is pretty much zero, and there are surprisingly very few comedic set pieces, with probably seventy percent of the ninety-minute running time boring talking-heads scenes comprised of the most stale dialogue this side of a two-week-old meatloaf. The director, Burt Kennedy, also produced and adapted this from the wittily-titled novel Apple Spy in the Sky (which I hope was much funnier; if not, then the book publisher deserves just as much scorn as HBO Pictures deserves for agreeing to finance this complete and utter mess); he has no real talent to speak of, and one soon longs for the now-and-again widescreen snap and go-for-broke silliness that Blake Edwards gave even to his unsuccessful sequel Curse of the Pink Panther. A game supporting cast including Ned Beatty, Ruth Gordon, Lucy Gutteridge, and John Morley are criminally wasted, with Sutherland managing to rise to the occasion in a charming bit late in the game where Appleton succeeds in sweet-talking a sentry guard-dog into letting him by - he finally abandons the weight of the dreary writing having dragged him down thus far and starts relying on pure actor's instinct to get the job done, and scores at least a double play in this marvelous instance. The real dog, though, without so much as a shadow of a doubt, is The Trouble with Spies.

Makes the mediocre Leslie Nielsen "Spy Hard" look like a masterpiece.

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originally posted: 12/19/20 12:45:06
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  04-Dec-1987 (PG)



Directed by
  Burt Kennedy

Written by
  Burt Kennedy

  Donald Sutherland
  Ned Beatty
  Ruth Gordon
  Lucy Gutteridge
  Robert Morley

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