Spy Hard (1996) — Why did no one else think to do a James Bond spoof in the ’90s?

“Crazy is walking down the street with half a cantaloupe on your head, muttering ‘I’m a hamster, I’m a hamster.'”

Justin’s rating: Oh behave! Okay, I will!

Justin’s review: I was recently at my brother’s ordination (a sort of longish ceremony that culminates in a pastor receiving his “wings” and then going through a spanking tunnel as part of the initiation), when someone at the party afterward asked me the loaded question, “So Justin. You’re a movie critic. Have you seen any good movies lately?”

It’s a question I honestly dread. I’m more than comfortable sharing my grammatically incorrect film opinions online, but when it comes to people in my vicinity putting me on the spot for an instant movie recommendation that I just know has no right answer — since no one defines “good” movies in the same way — I had to pause. My mind whisked away to remember the past few films I’d seen. All I could think of was Spy Hard and all four House Party movies, which hardly was the stuff of recommendations.

So the answer to their question was, no, I really hadn’t seen anything good lately. Instead of trying to explain why I actively seek out mediocre and horrible films to find the unusually talented hidden treasures that sometimes emerge, I took the easy way out and mumbled something about Shrek 2, and then helped myself to the baby carrot platter. Baby carrots rock. You feel like a giant, just popping them into your mouth with impunity, ha ha ha, I’m eating all the vegetable crops in the village and there will be none for you come winter!

Although you’d have to either pay me handsomely or intoxicate me with a variety of aerosol products to say that Spy Hard is a “good” movie, I refuse to go the predictable, easy route of condemning it. I’m one of those people that can’t wholly denounce a film to the lowest depths of the never-ending inferno where Carrot Top’s progeny burns eternally if I see something clever and likable in my viewing. My whole platform for holding Spy Hard from the immolating abyss is that Agent WD-40’s (Leslie Nielsen) boss, a portly and paranoid chap, continually disguises himself in any room that he’s in as various unexpected objects. To see a Laz-E-Boy recliner suddenly tear apart and transform into a humanoid shape prickles the hairs on the back of my bronzed neck. Simply awesome.

Spy Hard has a few other factors going for it — but mostly it contains completely boneheaded decisions. You’d think that the formula PARODY + LESLIE NEILSON would equal JOLLY GOOD FUN FOR ALL, but there’s some wacky subtraction going on and possibly some of those derivative things that calculus teachers make you learn knowing full well that anyone who mentions mathematical “derivatives” on the street will be dead within four minutes.

What did Spy Hard struggle against? It came in the mid-90s era where parodies were passé (the time between Hot Shots Part Deux and the unfortunately popular Scary Movie). Like Airplane II, it shamelessly capitalized off previous — and far more excellent — parodies, with the Naked Gun inner narrations and other time-tested puns that are line-for-line lifted into here. More importantly, it took the basic outline of parodies that had worked in far more successful movies and then dumbed it down to a point that most movie theaters had a three drink minimum to view it, just so people would actually laugh at such outrageous names like Agent 3.14 and Miss Cheevus.

Parodies must strike a balance between rapid, high-intelligence quips and the low-brow fare that common chimps hoot and holler over. As with many lesser parody flicks, Spy Hard all but ignores any sign of treating its audience with respect and merely goes for the cheap, 99-cent gags. It’s a shame, because you can pick through this movie and find some really great stuff: silly performances (like the one agent who speaks in a great JFK accent or Mr. Miyagi as a decidedly flamboyant waiter) and a number of other jokes that aren’t bad, they just needed better timing or more subtlety to really make fly. Plus, Neilson makes the goofiest faces that appeal to the inner baby in me. Googey-goo!

As it is, Spy Hard remains only as a predecessor to the other James Bond parodies, such as the riotious Austin Powers and the Rowanish Johnny English. Check, please.

Didja notice?

  • Opening song by… Weird Al Yankovic!
  • Mr. T! As the pilot!
  • I really didn’t want to see Andy Griffith mostly nude…
  • Mimes should be shot with silencers. It’s okay to groan now.
  • Fabio… why?
  • Sumo silhouette
  • I want that Evil Deeds Done sign
  • It’s Benson!
  • If you’re a considerate evil genius, give the good guys a time frame for your dastardly plan
  • The JFK-speaking guy
  • Lounge chairs make great disguise outfits
  • Michael Jackson is a bit flammable
  • They did a pretty good job covering the Speed soundtrack theme

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