The moderately enjoyable “Undercover Blues” plays like a big-screen, big-budget pilot for a TV series. As such, it could draw respectable coin from those seeking an undemanding, fun time at the movies, but the cartoony style and disconnected set pieces should play best on the homevideo/cable circuit.
Former spies Jane and Jeff Blue (Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid) are relaxing in New Orleans with their 11-month-old baby when they’re lured back into the espionage business to help foil an international terrorist ring led by Novacek (Fiona Shaw), who’s a cross between Lotte Lenya in “From Russia With Love” and Cruella de Vil.
The film spends about four of its 89 minutes on plot, with the rest devoted to comic scenes of Quaid and Turner playing kissy-face and cooing over their baby, fending off attackers, sidestepping the interrogations of the New Orleans police and brushing aside the assaults of persistent street mugger Muerte (Stanley Tucci, who garners the lion’s share of the laughs).
Script by first-timer Ian Abrams doesn’t cover any new ground, but aims at one of the most difficult targets — lighthearted fun — and achieves its goal. Story occasionally wanders off on tangents, but has some good scenes, such as Tucci in the alligator pit at the zoo.
However, the baby (played by little cutie pie Michelle Schuelke) is basically an accessory, adding little to the plot except novelty.
Herbert Ross’s camera setups are fine, and he keeps a consistent tone and a fast pace, but he evidently decided to forgo subtlety.
MGM is no doubt hoping for a new franchise here, but the modest stunts, fights and chases, juxtaposed against equally low-key family scenes, indicate film could more logically be translated to a TV series. The studio publicity may suggest comparisons to “The Thin Man,” but the pic’s style is more like “Hart to Hart.” Turner looks great and is immensely appealing, tossing off the comedy and jumping into the action scenes with equal ease. Quaid is OK, but isn’t up to her level, trying too hard to lay on the charm in the comedy scenes.
The always terrific Tucci just about steals the show as the self-styled tough guy. The usually dependable Larry Miller resorts to a “funny” voice and speech impediment as the latest in Hollywood’s long line of idiotic cops, while Obba Babatunde is fine as the latest in Hollywood’s long line of smart-but-dull black cops. Shaw seems to be having fun as the latest of Hollywood’s long line of terrorists with East European accents. With just a few lines, Jenifer Lewis makes a strong impression as a cab driver.
Film, smartly produced by Mike Lobell, is technically superior, notably with Priscilla Nedd-Friendly’s tight editing, an outstanding score by David Newman, and sharp cinematography and production design by, respectively, Donald E. Thorin and Ken Adam, who help New Orleans look appropriately irresistible.
Somebody unfortunately changed pic’s title from the coy-but-descriptive “Cloak and Diaper” to the current generic name. Maybe they can change it back for the pilot.