Spies in Disguise (2019) Review

An animated feature that has Will Smith’s Lance Sterling playing a smooth-talking, James Bond-like spy character… with a pigeon twist? That ought to be fun. Besides, who doesn’t want to see Will Smith turning into a pigeon? And that’s basically the major selling point in Spies in Disguise, which marks the feature-length directorial debuts of Nick Bruno and Troy Quane.

Spies in Disguise also gave us Tom Holland, who voices Walter Beckett — Will Smith’s unlikely nerdy sidekick and the one happens to be responsible for his physical transformation. Long story short and as expected, the two didn’t get along at the beginning but forced to work together to bring down a criminal mastermind, Killian (Ben Mendelsohn).

Other than the Will Smith turning into a pigeon novelty factor, this animated feature plays strictly by the numbers with every spy and action-movie tropes imaginable. This includes everything from James Bond and Mission: Impossible movies to buddy-comedy elements involving two mismatched partners (Will Smith and Tom Holland), complete with obligatory family-friendly lessons about trust and the importance of teamwork. It’s all familiar and predictable stuff, particularly if you have seen enough of these aforementioned genres.

That’s kind of a pity since the (voice) pairing of Will Smith and Tom Holland display excellent chemistry as two unlikely partners with different personalities. And likewise from the Blue Sky Studios of Ice Age and Rio fame, the animation is vibrant and full of energy. The pace is reasonably swift to keep you distracted throughout its compact 102-minute running time, even with all the clichés filling in at every corner.

Supporting voice roles are just as exceptional, particularly Rashida Jones as the relentless agent Marcy Kappel while Reba McEntire made quite an impression playing Lance Sterling’s no-nonsense superior who sounds like a dead ringer for the similarly raspy-voiced Holly Hunter.

But Spies in Disguise botches its opportunity to offer us a potentially memorable antagonist since hiring Ben Mendelsohn should have been an inspiring choice. Blame it on the writing, which doesn’t give him much to do other than relegating his voice acting to a garden-variety villain with a personal grudge.

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