[Screen It]


(2019) (voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Action: A top-level spy must not only contend with a dangerous criminal trying to destroy his agency, but also being turned into a pigeon by a gadgets expert.
Lance Sterling (voice of WILL SMITH) is one of the best top-secret spies around, something not lost on his ego. But when he finds himself framed for stealing an important device -- by arch-villain Killian (voice of BEN MENDELSOHN) who changed his appearance to match that of Lance and thus make the crime seem real -- he must think outside of the box.

With internal affairs agent Marcy Kappel (voice of RASHIDA JONES) hot on his trail with her assistants Eyes (voice of KAREN GILLAN) and Ears (voice of DJ KHALED), that results in a visit to gadget guru Walter Beckett (voice of TOM HOLLAND). Ironically, Lance just fired him for the unorthodox but nonetheless effect tool Walter had created for him.

Walter wants to help and Lance ends up accidentally drinking the invisibility potion Walter had been working on. But instead of that making him disappear visually, that formula turns Lance into a pigeon. Walter's theory is that no one pays attention to such birds and thus Lance will be able to get around unnoticed and thus better be able to find and stop Killian.

With that villain prepared to unleash his squadron of deadly drones onto the spy agency headquarters, Lance must try to save the day, all while having to become accustomed to and best take advantage of his new physical state.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Let's face it - pigeons are the Rodney Dangerfields of the bird world. Everyone loves the mighty eagle and most enjoy the variety of songbirds one might find in their backyard. Hawks are efficient predators and while vultures are ugly, they serve an important purpose in cleaning up carrion. Heck, while seagulls can be annoying with their loud squawking and attempts at stealing your food by the shore, at least they're constant reminders that you're at the beach.

But pigeons? Most people view them via their usual description -- rats with wings. And ones that poop all over everything in cities. Accordingly, if one were somehow magically going to be transformed into a bird, pigeons would likely be the bottom choice of the bird feeder pole.

That's part of the intended comedy element of the computer-animated action flick, "Spies in Disguise." In that, Will Smith voices the best top secret agent around, Lance Sterling, who's so admired that even coworkers in his own agency stop to gawk at him as he passes by, what with having just saved the day for the umpteenth time.

But when he ends up framed as a bad guy by the real villain of the moment, Killian (voiced by Ben Mendelsohn), he seeks out the help of oft-ridiculed gadget inventor Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) who he's figuratively and literally dismissed just moments before.

Walter's solution is to make Lance invisible so that he can infiltrate the villain's lair without being noticed. Unfortunately for Lance, Walter's invisibility isn't of the Claude Rains variety but instead is of the camouflage in plain sight one. And what better way to fit in and be ignored than to be turned into a pigeon?

That's the gist of Brad Copeland's screenplay that's now been brought to the screen by co-directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane in this decent but certainly not spectacular offering that clocks in just north of 100 minutes. All involved get decent early mileage out of that setup as we watch Lance react in horror at his transformation, nicely voiced by Smith in a perturbed meets exasperated fashion.

But such visual and verbal jokes can only carry the film so far and it's the rest where things come up a bit short. I'm still not entirely sure who the villain was and what he was trying to accomplish, outside of him having a robotic arm loaded with a variety of deadly weapons, having gotten his hands on a list of secret agents, and being in charge of a fleet of weapon-equipped drones.

It's unclear if Lance and Walter understand the particulars either, but undeterred by that, they realize they have to stop the villain and thus the plot zips around and all over the place, filling the screen with exotic locales, some goofy bird sidekicks, a female agent (Rashida Jones) trying to catch the rogue agent (but unaware of his new avian disposition and biology) and lots of action.

Kids might enjoy the freneticism of the latter and the goofy humor, while I imagine any older teens or adults in tow will likely just tolerate that and the rest of the material. It's certainly easy to do the latter, and beyond the fairly underdeveloped villain aspect of the script, most of what's offered is okay. It's just not great, and since we've grown accustomed to getting a decent share of the latter, it's likely this offering will blend in with so many other mediocre animated offerings like -- oh, I don't know, a pigeon perhaps -- and thus quickly become invisible to potential audiences.

All of which means "Spies in Disguise" might just grab its collar, twists its thick, feather-covered neck back and forth and complain about not getting any respect. Feeling generous with the holiday spirit, we'll give it just enough that it earns a 5.5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed November 25, 2019 / Posted December 25, 2019

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