One-note 'Blues' gives you nothing to laugh at over and over again

MOVIE REVIEW

September 11, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Here's a meaningless but amusing question: What is the single least lamented, most absurd minor film genre? You say teen-age slasher pix? You don't win. You say midget westerns? You don't win either. You say campy Japanese monster movies? You don't even come close. (Some of them were pretty good!)

Here's the answer: James Bond knock-offs. In the mid-'60s, after Sean Connery broke through to world celebrity with the Bond films, there was a brief spurt of minor clones of utterly no consequence. One was called "The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World"; it was the 678,956th best movie in the whole wide world.

Then there were two Derek Flint pictures with James Coburn, a Matt Helms series with Dean Martin (Dean Martin!) and a few dreary others. All bad. All lame, limp, witless, absurd and, of course, conceptually paradoxical: How do you spoof something that's already a spoof? The two sources of spoofiness de-spoof each other. The spoof goes poof!

But "Undercover Blues," the latest addition to this worthless tradition adds yet another level of preposterousness to the brew. It's obsolete! It spoofs a movie that hasn't existed in pure form in 20 years!

Sic Temper Hollywood: a 20-year-out-of-date imitation of something that wasn't any good to begin with!

And there's another problem. Shouldn't a movie have more than one joke? Shouldn't there be a law somewhere that reads, "Be it resolved, therefore, that heretofore no motion picture entertainment shall be licensed for completion unless it contains at least two (02) jokes." Can't some courageous senator attach that one as a rider to the next farm appropriations bill?

The single joke, repeated ad nauseum, throughout "Undercover Blues": The Blues, Jeff and Jane, ex-CIA agents, are so cool that they are able to handle any confrontation with unflappable aplomb. No sweat, no muss, no twitch, no fuss, with a merry quip on their lips and a twinkle in their eyes. In fact, if you've seen the preview, you've seen the movie. And the preview is bad, too!

It doesn't help that as performers Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner are almost preternaturally supercilious, and thus their smirking hauteur comes to assume monstrous, almost pathological proportions. I've only seen a comparable look of amused superiority and contempt on an authentic human face once in my life: when I asked a long-since deposed managing editor if he would appoint me The Sun Paris bureau's first permanent film critic.

The Blues, vacationing in a picturesque New Orleans, are set upon by a Hispanic bad boy named Muerte, played by the excellent actor Stanley Tucci who should be doing so much better. He pulls a knife on Jeff who deftly, suavely, slickly, bats him aside, as easily, say, as the Fifth Earl of Holcombe might have disposed of a mosquito on safari in the year 1907. This inflames Muerte who over and over throughout the picture throws himself at Jeff, with the same knife and the same results. But never mind the grotesque stereotyping or the lame humor ("Muerte" means death, but that card Jeff Blue insouciantly refers to him as "Morty"), the device itself is symptomatic of the utter flatness of the film: it never develops, it never changes. It's the same %$(*$! gag every time!

The plot is rumor of a whisper about a possibility that finds the Blues called back into action to find a former Czechoslovakian secret policewoman who is trying to sell a hyperpowerful plastic explosive to the highest bidder. It runs through one arbitrary episode after another, never mounting in suspense or developing in humor. The only alteration in the film over its running time is the intensity of Quaid's supercilious smirk. It seems to grow and grow until it locks his whole face into a grotesque mask, the frozen glare of madness. Get this guy some Prozac, quick. And if he starts muttering about the voices and reaches into a mysterious gym bag that he won't let anybody hold, better hit the floor!

As for the movie, it's the 678,957th best in the whole wide world.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Undercover Blues"

Starring Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid

Directed by Herbert Ross

Released by MGM

PG-13

*

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