All talk, no action

Spy Game's characters blab through a not-so-smart plot

Rating: NNNNN

with its endless scenes of rob- ert Redford in a conference room explaining the back story to a gang of CIA suits, Spy Game is less a movie than a story conference for the movie. You could accuse director Tony Scott of many things — being the best of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s house directors (Beverly Hills Cop II, Days Of Thunder, Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy Of The State) is probably the nicest of them, with “didn’t fuck up True Romance too badly” a close second. But the dull competence found here is unexpected.

Scott is a talented action hack (add The Last Boy Scout and The Hunger to the filmography) with a penchant for unacknowledged remakes — Enemy Of The State is a hard-action version of The Conversation, and Crimson Tide of The Bedford Incident.

Spy Game is Three Days Of The Condor from Cliff Robertson’s CIA agent’s point of view. It’s also an interesting instance of a director trying to trick up a film so the audience doesn’t realize the movie is made up of long dialogue scenes.

Redford plays an old-hand CIA man running assassins into Vietnam who recruits Brad Pitt to be one of his operatives. When Pitt goes rogue and winds up in a Chinese prison, Redford has to come up with a way to get him out.

(Spy Game is opening within a week of Behind Enemy Lines, in which Gene Hackman has to bring back Owen Wilson’s downed pilot, though I suspect that film will involve more state-of-the-art bang-bang.)

The one thing that makes Spy Game interesting is that Redford is plainly the hero.

For one thing, he’s Robert Redford, but he also plays the part the way he plays heroes. But this is a character who runs assassins, makes deals with terrorist militias and burns assets if it’s expedient. And, apparently, no one sees this as ironic or even a little peculiar.

It is weird, though, that this agent has spent 30 years doing black bag jobs for the CIA but, dammit, he still cares enough about his protégé to move heaven, earth and spy satellites to save his life, when he’s supposed to be retiring yesterday.

Watching Pitt and Redford play scenes together, you keep expecting Redford to break character and announce, “Luke, I am your father.”

SPY GAME directed by Tony Scott, written by Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata, produced by Marc Abraham and Douglas Wick, with Robert Redford, Brad Pitt and Catherine MacCormack. 127 minutes. A Beacon production. A Universal release. Now playing. For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 102. Rating: NN

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