Take two of America's best comic actors, put them together in a farce, and let them go; that's the sum and substance of "I Spy," and more often than not it works. Eddie Murphy is Kelly Robinson, middleweight champion of the world, recruited by a CIA-like agency to provide a legitimate cover for agent Alexander Scott (Owen Wilson), as he tries to locate a stolen American stealth warplane that's somewhere in Budapest, where it's been hidden by bad man Gundars (Malcolm McDowell), who plans to sell it to the highest-bidding country. Why can't they find it? Because it's invisible, that's why. Hey, what the hell. The cover is that Kelly is to fight a middleweight title bout there, and Alex is to pretend to be his assistant, while trying to locate the plane.
The plot is so thin it would take up about fifteen minutes of a James Bond film, with time enough left over for a couple of quickies; but as I say it doesn't matter. We like the interplay between the stars, and they make the most of their material.
The question for a viewer is whether Murphy and Wilson make a good onscreen couple, and the answer is they're just fine. Murphy does his old standup, lightning-fast egocentric third-person shtick - "Kelly Robinson don't take no shit from no third-rate cop!" "Nobody gonna tell Kelly Robinson what he gonna do. Kelly Robinson gonna decide what he's gonna do!" and so on - while Wilson uses that slow, soft Texas drawl and shy-little-boy manner that brings out the maternal instinct in all of us, male and female. Somehow it works. The pair do a lot of Bond-style stunts along the way, most of which have already been part of too many films to still have any power, but we really don't mind. There are enough witty moments and charming bits to carry us along for an hour and a half. Famke Janssen is Alex's fellow agent, whom he's had an unrequited crush on for many years; and even with Kelly's help, feeding him lines from "Sexual Healing" through a bug in his ear, he still is no closer to consummating it at the end of the film.
"I Spy" is directed by Betty Thomas, who after her television acting career ended - she's best known for her work on "Hill Street Blues" - has made a lot of good television crime show episodes but a few very ordinary features. She shows a surer hand here.