"Spies Like Us" includes cameos by a number of film directors, including Frank Oz, Martin Brest, Joel Coen and Bob Swaim, and after 20 minutes, you understand why -- it's director John Landis' way of ensuring that at least someone will want to see his movie.
Well, they're the only ones. "Spies Like Us" is a comedy with exactly one laugh, and those among you given to Easter egg hunts may feel free to try and find it.
Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase) and Millbarge (Dan Aykroyd) are mired in the foreign-policy bureaucracy till they're plucked from obscurity, made into spies and assigned a secret mission. Of course, no one in his right mind would make such bumblers into spies; they're decoys, duped by a clique of generals who are plotting the end of the world.
So the movie proceeds as a kind of Hope and Crosby movie (Bob Hope, too, has a cameo), as Fitz-Hume and Millbarge blunder across the exotic wastes of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. They get into a scrape, make a few lame jokes, retreat on a yak (Billy Wilder?). They get into another scrape, make a few lame jokes, retreat on a camel (Otto Preminger?).
The presence of the directors' cameos isn't surprising -- the entire movie appears to be some kind of in-joke. Whole scenes are dedicated to Aykroyd's consternation when he comes upon Chase seducing a lovely American spy (Donna Dixon), a consternation that's hard to understand unless you happen to know that Aykroyd is married to Dixon in real life. The scenes aren't played between characters, but between off-screen personalities. It's the kind of vanity production that hasn't been seen since "Cannonball Run II."
That Chase is godawful is no surprise -- he's been running on empty for years with variations on that tired "I'm Chevy Chase and you're not" riff. But whatever happened to Dan Aykroyd? He became an almost heroic figure in American comedy with his routines on "Saturday Night Live," but no one seems to be able to write for him (including Aykroyd himself, who cowrote "Spies Like Us"). Aykroyd is a virtuoso mimic, yet he's never had a role that took advantage of that. Instead, he's relegated to playing a sort of sheepish accountant/second banana in movie after movie, and that's a shame.
Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, perhaps Hollywood's most talented comic writing team, were called in to do a rewrite on "Spies Like Us," but seem to have come up with nothing better than this: "That's a highly classified piece of intelligence hardware"; "Well, she's a high-class, intelligent piece." This from the guys who wrote "Splash." It's the kind of stuff you come up with when you're not trying very hard, and on "Spies Like Us," nobody seems to be trying. And that can be very trying indeed.