Movie Review: Spies In Disguise

After Disney bought 21st Century Fox last year (can we please stop calling it a merger?), the suits there got busy shifting Fox’s film releases. Titles like CALL OF THE WILD with Harrison Ford, which was supposed to open on Xmas Day last year, will now open here on March 26th. SPIES IN DISGUISE was originally scheduled for release last September but it’s just opening now. January is traditionally a slow time for the movie box office and the US$100 million animated film will definitely struggle to break even.

Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith, ALADDIN; COLLATERAL BEAUTY; CONCUSSION) is his agency’s top spy and he knows it. Things for him start to go very wrong, though, when his latest mission ends in failure and video footage surfaces showing what appears to be him along with the item he was supposed to have taken away from Japanese arms dealer Katsu Kimura (Masi Oka, TV’s HEROES). Now on the run from his agency’s internal security team led by Marcy Kappel (Rashida Jones, INSIDE OUT), Sterling turns to Walter Beckett (Tom Holland, the AVENGERS franchise; THE CURRENT WAR), the agency’s young, nerdy scientist to help him disappear. That sort of happens when Sterling inadvertently drinks one of Walter’s experiments, turning the dapper spy into a pigeon. While Sterling would like to be “unbirded” ASAP, it’s not that simple for Walter. Besides, Walter sees the benefit to leaving Sterling as a flying rat at least for the time being. Together, they can travel the world unwatched to hunt down the evil Killian (Ben Mendelsohn, CAPTAIN MARVEL; DARKEST HOUR; SLOW WEST; EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS), who not only framed Sterling but is hatching a plot (no pun intended) to destroy Sterling’s spy organisation.

Made by Blue Sky Studios, the people who brought us the ICE AGE films, the RIO films, and other films that feature colourful, talking animals, SPIES IN DISGUISE is targeted squarely to the 5- to 12-year-old demographic with such wholesome messages as it’s okay to be weird, science is cool, fight hatred with kindness, teamwork is better than going it alone, and more. For parents, the film is mercifully short, clocking in at just over 100 minutes. While SPIES IN DISGUISE is entertaining enough, it’s not very challenging as the story follows a well-worn path. I spent most of the film wondering who the other spies in disguise were (maybe the screenwriters were including Walter in that list). My 9- and 6-year-old movie companions, meanwhile, were totally engrossed in the story.

Unfortunately, the voice characterisations aren’t anything to fly home about. Smith and Holland are voicing stereotypical versions of themselves. Rap star DJ Khaled has a small part playing the agency’s sound specialist code named “Ears” and grunting monosyllabic comments from time to time. Khaled must have some deal going with Will Smith as he also appears in Will’s new film, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. He should definitely give up the voice acting gig. Rachel Brosnahan (TV’s THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL) has a brief role voicing Walter’s mother and country music queen Reba McEntire voices middle-aged agency director Joy.

If you have young kids, you could do far worse than taking them to see this film. If you don’t though, you can safely give SPIES IN DISGUISE a pass and still sleep well at night.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, January 24th, 8:30 am HK time!

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