Look and feel of “I Spy Returns” is comfortable and appealing echo of original vintage comedy-action series, updated with some ’90s technology and attitude.
When “I Spy” premiered in 1965, it was — quite rightly — hailed for its milestone casting of white and black leads, Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, as G-men undercover as globe-trotting tennis pro Kelly Robinson and his trainer, Alexander (Scotty) Scott. A quarter-century after series’ three-year NBC run, progeny of Robinson and Scott are also secret agents, posing as a married couple. They’re male and female, though; television hasn’t progressed quite that much.
Story picks up with Scott ensconced as a romance language professor at suburban California cow college. His daughter, Nicole (Salli Richardson), calls from D.C. to tell him she’s become an operative for his old outfit, the Special Services Agency. Scott implores Robinson — now an SSA director — to dismiss her. Instead, Robinson has assigned her to a mission partnered with “the best young male trainee who’s ever been through the program,” his son, Bennett (George Newbern).
Robinson and Scott tail the kids to Vienna, and the game’s afoot. The younger spies are supposed to pick up a defecting Russian scientist and his wife (Nikolaus Paryla, Lynsey Baxter) and bring them back to the U.S.; of course, it isn’t as easy as anticipated, with any number of bad guys also after the human prizes.
Plot’s OK, but the main thrust is on relationships, between the Robinsons and Scotts in all possible combinations. Not surprisingly, Culp and Cosby take charge here, bantering seemingly improvised dialogue like a loving but scrappy old married couple. The set pieces are more comic than action-filled.
Scripter Michael Norell gives the kids a twist: She’s the strong, action-oriented one; he’s something of a nerd.
Director Jerry London handles the cast and pacing well in this entertaining pic. A major clinker involves badly dubbed and phony-looking reaction shots of extras in an otherwise funny scene involving a prank on all-around bad guy Caesar Broodi (Jonathan Hyde).
Credits claim that film was produced entirely on location in Vienna, which helps account for rich look.