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dvds: EDDIE GOES FULL THROTTLE; JESSICA MELLOR on Eddie Murphy's new fast-moving action comedy.

Byline: JESSICA MELLOR

I SPY

(12, Rental VHS and DVD pounds 19.99)

Idon't know why Eddie Murphy gets such a bad rap. He's not nearly as annoying or lacking in talent as a lot of actors who are more successful and prolific than him.

And yet he gets snobbish criticism thrown at him from every direction when all he does is choose slight and silly roles and turn them into something more by doing what he's good at - making people laugh.

OK, so he occasionally turns up in rubbish such as Vampire In Brooklyn or Harlem Nights, but since swapping the stand-up stage for the big screen he's turned out a steady stream of mirth-filled romps including Coming To America, Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and Bowfinger.

Eddie's good at being other people (in The Nutty Professor he played six characters) and he's great at self-deprecating comedy. He can take a hint too, wisely deciding to give up directing after the tragedy that was Harlem Nights. He also refuses to take himself or his job too seriously.

But most of all, he doesn't listen to all the cynical armchair critics who belittle just about everything he does and carries on regardless. And I for one am glad he does because he tickles my funny bone very nicely, thank you.

I Spy is based on the '60s television show. Murphy plays Kelly Robinson, a big-headed boxer who is selected to work undercover on a case with Special Agent Alex Scott (Owen Wilson).

Malcolm McDowell plays Arnold Gundars, an arms dealer who they suspect has stolen their hi-tech "invisible" prototype fighter plane, the Switchblade.

The US government isn't convinced Scott has what it takes to do the job on his own, and they know Gundars is a big boxing fan. So when world champ Robinson is billed to fight in the city where they suspect the plane is hidden, he is roped in to form an unlikely double act.

Of course, at first Robinson and Scott don't get on, especially when fellow agent Rachel Wright (Famke Janssen) enters the picture and threatens to divert Scott's concentration.

In addition, Scott has to contend with playing second fiddle to Agent Carlos (Gary Cole), the guy who always seems to get the best gadgets, while he gets stuck with the older, ropier devices.

In the end, no one knows who to trust or what to believe and both men have to pull together to solve the case.

So the plot is predictable and flimsy, and was probably written on a napkin. But who cares when all you expect from a film like this is a cracking comedic pairing, some superb set pieces, a dollop of deft dialogue, an overload of action and a lot of laughs? I Spy manages to deliver on all counts.

Directed by Betty Thomas, who wisely lets each of her leading men bring their own special something to their characters, this is a frivolous, fast-moving and often very funny action comedy.

Murphy is marvellous as the cocky Robinson while Wilson proves he's the best bloke at providing strong support to funny leading men, as he did with Jackie Chan. Janssen is impossible to dislike and even Cole adds a certain charm to his ridiculous role.

If you don't like Murphy's super-confident, over-the-top style you'll hate this because he steals the show. If, like me, you can't get enough of him, then this is perfect.

The DVD extras include features about the special effects and Murphy flexing his pecs during boxing training.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 20, 2003
Words:591
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