reviewed by Steve Sailer
UPI, November 21, 2001
If all CIA covert operatives look like Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, the stars of the snazzy but brainless "Spy Game," it's no wonder our spooks have proven so ineffectual ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall deprived them of a blond enemy they could infiltrate.
I mean, if Redford snuck into an Al-Qaeda training camp, the Arab terrorists would take one glance at his hair and shout, "It looks fabulous! What kind of conditioner do you use?" (Those trainee terrorists spend a little too much time in all-male camps without even the occasional woman in a tight burqa around.)
I last saw Redford play a CIA man outwitting his heartless Agency superiors in 1975's "Three Days of the Condor." In the quarter century since, my own personal hair has deteriorated sadly. Yet, I'm happy to say, not a hair on Redford's 64-year-old head has changed, other than that the passing decades seem to have infused his blond locks with even more body.
"Spy Game" is set in 1991, when retiring master spy Redford learns that his protégé Pitt has been arrested in Red China. (The wily Communists caught him by using the sophisticated counter-espionage technique of noticing that Brad Pitt isn't Chinese.)
Redford has 24 hours to rescue Pitt before he's executed. Yet, "Spy Game" also shows the story of their mentor-mentee relationship going back to 1975. "Spy Game" is a sort of "One Day of the Condor and Sixteen Years of Flashbacks."
In contrast to his hair, Redford's skin looks like that of man who's been surfing or skiing for the last fifty years. So, you can't figure out how old Redford's character is supposed to be. The top half of his head seems much younger than the bottom half.
Also, he looks the same through all 16 years of the story. If director Tony Scott of "Top Gun" fame wanted more realism, he should have filmed the 1991 scenes first; then shut down production while Redford got a facelift; and only then filmed the flashbacks.
Redford and Pitt meet back in 1975 at a massive U.S. Army firebase in Vietnam. Oh, you don't recall the U.S. Army being in Vietnam after 1973? Well, don't be so picky, because there is plenty in the script that's stupider than that.
I normally don't harp on logical flaws in plots. The critic who dwells on how each movie he sees insults his intelligence must be a little insecure about his own intelligence. The portentous "Spy Game," however, is getting ridiculously good reviews, probably because Scott wisely keeps the pace cranked up high enough to discourage rational thought.
Michael Frost Beckner's story is strictly back-of-an-envelope stuff. Three video store clerks could have come up with a more plausible plot during their lunch hour.
For example, in 1985 Redford and Pitt set up shop in Beirut, amidst the artillery duels of Lebanon's civil war, because they need to quietly poison "the Sheik." He's a terrorist chieftain who is said to be planning to do something or other to Beirut even more dastardly than what the rubble-strewn town's sixteen other terrorist chieftains have already done to it.
The Sheik, who looks and dresses more like Aristotle Onassis than Osama bin Laden, has the good sense to actually lives on the peaceful island of Cyprus. So, why does Brad Pitt spend two months dodging Kalashnikov-firing militias in Beirut, rather than just drop by Cyprus and poison the Sheik there? Because the Sheik is planning to speedboat over to Beirut for his annual doctor's checkup.
Think about that. The plot is telling us that the Sheik regularly visits the Mad Max-style battlefield that was Beirut because he's concerned about his health.
Redford approaches the Sheik's Beirut doctor and asks him to murder his longtime patient because the CIA believes the Sheik murdered the doctor's parents a few years ago. The doctor immediately agrees without asking for any evidence. That makes perfect sense to me. After all, if you can't trust a CIA covert ops agent in Beirut, who can you trust?
Yet, that's nothing compared to "Spy Game's" ending, which is infinitely idiotic.
[Spoiler Alert:] Redford forges a fax from the CIA Director ordering an American military assault on mainland China. (I hadn't been aware that with a single fax the CIA Director can order the military to commit an Act of War against a nuclear-armed nation just on his own say-so, but you learn something new every day.) U.S. commandos chopper in, shoot dozens of Chinese guards, and haul Pitt out to a U.S. base.
Of course, what would happen after the movie ends is that the U.S. would instantly return Pitt to the Chinese, along with Redford's head on a pike, as part of the reparations to head off WWIII.
The best thing about the script is that you won't be able to hear much of it due to the incessantly pounding soundtrack.
The Redford-Pitt casting, however, does illustrate something seldom mentioned about human nature: Mentors often choose protégés who look like younger versions of themselves. For example, the 5'-4" Italian-Welsh president of my old firm was especially close to a 5'-5" Italian-American junior executive.
Similarly, Redford gave Pitt his first starring role in that fine 1992 fly-fishing drama "A River Runs Through It," where he had Pitt made up to look like the young Robert Redford. They vowed to do another movie together (with less fortunate results).
From the standpoint of a man's genes, it makes sense that they encourage him to feel nepotistic toward younger men who look enough like him that they might be blood relations. Who knows, Pitt might even be Redford's biological nephew (or son).
I'm sure he's not, but the two blond actors clearly share more than a few genes, just as uncles and nephews do.
Yet, Pitt's likeable but self-effacing performance as the scruffily groomed younger spy suggests once again that the underachieving Pitt lacks a certain bit of DNA that Redford clearly possesses. Call it the Legend in His Own Mind Gene. Pitt seems to want to grow up to be Steve Buscemi Jr. more than to be Robert Redford II.
Pitt should make better use of Redford's avuncular interest in him. He could start by asking Redford where he gets his hair.
Rated "R" for no particular reason I noticed. It's standard PG-13 fare.