Undercover Blues, directed by Herbert Ross, wants the audience to think it has a title with dual meanings. At first glance, it seems to say this is a lighthearted action-comedy about a loving couple that is indifferent to the espionage scenario they’re involved in, which it is. However, we soon learn that this couple’s last name is “Blue”, which would imply a complexity to the title. Am I right? Absolutely not. There is nothing complex about the story told in this film (or the title for that matter), but it in no way detracts from the film’s success as an entertaining if forgettable piece of cinema.

Jefferson Blue (Dennis Quaid) and Jane Blue (Kathleen Turner) are retired CIA agents who have recently settled in a quaint section of New Orleans. They relinquished their life of reconnaissance in order to properly care for their new child, a bright and beautiful baby girl. It isn’t long before their former boss, claiming they are the only two capable for “this type of mission”, asks the couple back into action. They attempt to tell him off, but after a short negotiation, they work a vast sum of money out of him and subsequently accept the assignment. The mission involves spying, fighting, imitation, and witty problem solving to bring a nuclear arms stealing foe (Fiona Shaw) to justice. Along for the ride are Det. Halsey (Larry Miller) and Lt. Sawyer (Obba Babatundé) whose attention was drawn to Mr. Blue after a mugging incident that they believe involved him. Although he denies it (to secure discretion), he was in fact mugged by a man that calls himself Muerte (Stanley Tucci). Muerte is a third-party villain whose plans are constantly foiled by the ingenious and curiously talented couple. One other thing, throughout the entire operation they have a baby in tow.

The throwaway plot is about as deep as a kiddie pool with no water in it. The film works solely because of its on-screen talent, which it has in spades. Dennis Quaid is likable as the securely confident Mr. Blue, who knows the ins and outs of the criminal mind. At first, his character comes off as a little annoying because of his incessant joking manner, but I grew very fond of him as the film progressed. This was likely a result of his relationship with Turner. As Mrs. Blue, she shares the same slap-happy and ambivalent attitude towards the mission, but it’s her love for Mr. Blue and his equally reciprocal feelings for her that inject the film with its most potent themes. They are a little too touchy-feely at times (They insinuate sex as often as they possibly can, even in the presence of strangers) but I believe that fault lies with the writer, Ian Abrams. It’s likely he believed his weak script couldn’t possibly garner good talent and thus had to make up for it by nailing their relationship on the head of the audience. It’s very fortunate that Quaid and Turner make for a convincing couple because the film would all but fall apart without them.

Staley Tucci steals the show as Muerte, exhibiting his profound acting talent. This is a rare turn for him as he often doesn’t play such light roles (his versatility has landed him more dramatic roles recently) and he proves to be an adept physical comedian. His role, although relatively minimal, elicited the only laugh-out-loud moments in the film and thus, he deserves praise for his depiction as a desperate and crazed Latino.

Even with the light touch from the cast, the film is far from remarkable. The detectives that tag along during the journey are poorly realized and speak in such thick, obnoxious accents that their scenes test the patience. In addition, the villains in the film are the most non-intimidating bad guys in the world, and the Blue’s act like they know it. This works for and against Undercover Blues in equal measures. It fails in that there is never any threat or imminent danger to the protagonists and thus the action scenes seem accessorized and tacked on. It works, though, because it makes more room for the comedy and helps the audience fully realize the goofy nature of the story. The film is enjoyable, but it’s far from a classic in the action-comedy genre. Those expecting a family-friendly version of Beverly Hills Cop, need not apply.


Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.

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