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Spies Like Us: try-hard, vanity comedy

Another day, another multi-film 80s collection.  Today's offering is a Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd vehicle Spies Like Us.

It's a Cold War send-up of spy films and from the get-go it's clearly a paint-by-numbers affair.  Both actors are playing their favorite idealized roles, which they originated in other, better movies.

Chase plays the clumsy yet suave con artist who has a way with the ladies while Aykroyd is the mega-nerd who talks in cluttered jargon and ultimately saves the world.  Essentially it's Caddyshack meets Ghostbusters, and since the characters are nothing more than tropes, there's no real investment in what happens. 

To be fair, there are a few legitimate belly laughs, but the film feels more like a series of related Saturday Night Live sketches than a cohesive story precisely because the characters are so familiar.

The sketches work because all we have is the one skit.  However, when you run a bunch together, it feels forced and is uneven.  One of the keys to comedy is timing - the jokes have to come in the proper sequence and with the proper spacing to have the full effect.  When it works, you reduce the audience to helpless laughter, because they have just enough time to recover before something new happens.

When it doesn't you get awkward silences, as if a rollercoaster has come to a sudden and unexpected stop.  That's the feeling of Spies Like Us - it gets rolling for a bit, stutters a bit, rolls more but never finds a consistent pace.

And yes, it has a fair amount of political preachiness about bloodthirsty generals trying to start WW III with Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.  You can mix politics and humor, but only if it has the right tone.  If you don't do that, you alienate a bunch of the audience. 


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