In Praise of…SPIES LIKE US (1985)

Perhaps unfairly overlooked when stacking up stateside 80s comedy classics such as Caddyshack, Trading Places, Spinal Tap, Fletch, Midnight Run, 48 Hours and the first National Lampoon’s Vacation movie, director John Landis’ Spies Like Us is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

The plot has some present day parallels in it’s enjoyably meandering story of hapless US agents/decoys Fitz-Hume (Chase) and Milbarge (Ackroyd), Russian skulduggery and off the books US weapons development.
But this is just a cover for the last time (with the odd exception*) Chevy Chase and Dan Ackroyd really kicked comedy ass on the big screen. IMO.
*Chase gives a decent enough performance in the following year’s Three Amigos, also Xmas Vacation (1989), Dirty Work (1998) and Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), ditto Ackroyd in Dragnet (1987) and Coneheads (1993)
Landis, as is his wont, peppers the action with cameos of director friends (including Terry Gilliam, Sami Raimi, Jeol Cohen & Costa-Gavras), mostly notably in the inexplicably rib-tickling ‘Doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor‘ scene, where Bob Hope also makes an appearance, playing through the operating theatre on his then perpetual world golf tour:
Stand out skits include Chevy Chase’s comically inept diplomatic exam and the reaction of the pair when in icy wastes of Siberia they hear the 60s classic ‘Soul Finger’ by The Bar-Kays (Soviet troops are playing the song on an 80s boom box) :
Also for your consideration:
Rob Hodges (James Daughton): Every minute you don’t tell us why you are here, I cut off a finger.
Emmett Fitz-Hume: Mine or yours?
Rob Hodges: Yours.
Emmett Fitz-Hume: Damn!

Emmett Fitz-Hume: (They hear a bird-like sound) Did you hear that?

Austin Millbarge:Yeah. It’s a dickfer.

Emmett Fitz-Hume: What’s a dickfer?

Austin Millbarge: To pee with.

Admittedly the clod-hopping Paul McCartney theme and accompanying video is no catchy Ray Parker Jnr (Ghostbusters) style toe-tapper, but at least it’s confined to the end credits… 

Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'