By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) — As animated pigeon-transformation movies go, “Spies in Disguise” (Fox) hits an avian sweet spot you undoubtedly didn’t know existed.
The pace is rapid while the premise is vapid. But directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, working from a screenplay by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, somehow manage to let learning take place, too, even if that means occasional lessons in pigeon ingestion.
Never heard of a cloaca before? You will now! The reference seems clinical for children’s fare, but the filmmakers are determined to highlight this key organ in bird evacuation.
This is the story of superspy Lance Sterling (voice of Will Smith). Lance’s success in the field largely depends on gadgetry he gets from his version of James Bond’s Q, nerdy Walter Beckett (voice of Tom Holland). Unlike Q, Walter prefers his tech to be decidedly nonviolent. Glitter and an image of kittens — kitty glitter, get it? — can, he demonstrates, be hugely effective at neutralizing evil.
“When we fight fire with fire,” Walter reasons, “we all get burned.”
Lance is sneering and condescending, something that will be lost on young children more captivated by the kinetic action sequences involving spies and villains cavorting in defiance of gravity.
Lance sacks Walter for giving him one of the glitter bombs. But since his last mission failed, and a face-shifting terrorist, Killian (voice of Ben Mendelsohn), has falsely implicated Lance in the failure, which now has Lance on the run from the agency, operative and geek find themselves essential to each other’s survival.
Walter’s invisibility potion, which he has tried out using feathers, doesn’t work as expected, and Lance finds himself transformed into a small blue pigeon. His plea, “I need you to un-bird me, Walter!” can do no good until Walter comes up with an antidote, which will take considerable time.
Meanwhile, Lance, even in his diminished feathery condition, works up a way to confront Killian for framing him. He also finds new pigeon companions to help him.
High-speed chases combine with exotic locales and very mild yucky sight gags involving what pigeons will eat. (Hint: Pretty much anything.)
This is no classic, but it tries very hard to be agreeable.
The film contains some intense action sequences and digestion-themed dialogue. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.