Movie review

We seem to be in the midst of the rejuvenation of Will Smith’s movie career.

Earlier this year, he was a big part of the success of “Aladdin,” voicing the genie in the animated megahit ($1 billion in worldwide grosses). Later, he hit a speed bump with the live-action spy thriller “Gemini Man,” a flop in which he plays two versions of his assassin character. Next month, he re-teams with Martin Lawrence in “Bad Boys for Life.”

And now, yes, right now, he’s lending his voice to another animated opus, “Spies in Disguise.” In it, he’s a — you guessed it — spy. Suave, smooth, deadly in a dinner jacket and speedy in a supercar. Name’s Bond, er, um, ah, no, Lance. Lance Sterling. If 007 had a brother, this guy would be him.

Also, you can bet your booty Bond has never, and will never, ever, be transmogrified into a — wait for it — pigeon.

And will never, ever, be in the position of uttering the clarion bleat (Tweet?): “Unbird me!”

Yes. A comedy is what we have here, pairing Smith with Tom Holland, geeky and bubbling with enthusiasm in a Spider-Mannish manner. He’s Walter Beckett, the movie’s equivalent of Q, a kid genius, maker of myriad gizmos designed to defeat baddies with, well, sweetness and light.


He’s the inventor of the Kitty Glitter bomb that showers evildoers with glitter and kitty videos that reduce villains to helpless heaps of mush going, “Awwww! How cuuuute!” Another gadget is an inflatable hug that immobilizes meanies in its enveloping embrace. “Cuuuute!” squared. Just this side of cloying, but the picture is sufficiently self-aware that it doesn’t get mired in the maudlin.

Oh, and the pigeon part? That’s the result of a serum concocted by Walter, that when glugged, turns a person into a … see above. It’s the perfect disguise because the birds are everywhere and no one pays them any attention. Hide in plain sight and all that.

Carelessly downing a dose, Lance is abruptly birded, which leaves him bewildered, bothered and blowing his stack.

Comedy, tonight! Specifically tailored for kids, with a very positive and much underscored message: Be nice.

Walter is all about being nice, and persistently tries to win Lance over to his way of thinking. Lance, at first isn’t having any of it. “Evil doesn’t care if you’re nice,” he declares, which is certainly the case with the villain of the piece, a meanie with a robotic claw named — what else? — Robohand. Ben Mendelsohn provides his snarl.

The picture is fast-paced and colorful, though original it’s not. Its Bond tropes are all too familiar.


It is, however, educational in a way. Contains a number of factoids about pigeon anatomy, like the fact they have 340-degree vision. And gives a definition of the term cloaca. It’s related to the bird’s excretory function. Which is to say: pigeon poop. Kids love that sort of thing.

It’s true charm lies in the interplay between Smith and Holland. You can hear the grin in Smith’s voice as he delivers his lines. He’s great at playing flustered, lamenting having no hands to karate chop villains and squawking with alarm as Walter tosses him off a roof and tells him to fly, pigeon, fly. “He’ll figure it out,” Walter says as Lance falls and flaps frantically trying to get the hang of things before the moment of the big splat, fearing “I’m going to die and be buried in a shoebox.”

On the whole, “Spies” is a very nice trifle turning up just in time for the holidays for families seeking a kinder, gentler alternative to “Star Wars.”


★★★ “Spies in Disguise,” with the voices of Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Karen Gillan. Directed by Tom Quane and Nick Bruno, from a screenplay by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor. 102 minutes. Rated PG for action, violence and rude humor. Opens Dec. 25 at multiple theaters.