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Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Retro Review: Undercover Blues (1993)

Undercover Blues
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid, Stanley Tucci, Larry Miller, Tom Arnold 
Genre: Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $12 million 

Plot: Jeff and Jane Blue are the doting parents of a new baby girl. They also happen to be America's best chance at national security. Just as they embark on that perilous adventure known as parenting, they are asked to save the world from a treacherous arms embezzler. But are their martial arts skills, cunning and high-tech know-how any match for a diabolical terrorist and ten-pound tyrant? 

'Forced and Cartoonish Humour Renders This Formulaic Detective Caper Tired'

Amidst heavy hitters such as Mrs Doubtfire, The Pelican Brief and Jurassic Park, there were also relatively low-key films that came out in 1993 with the relatively unheard Undercover Blues being one of them, and then the latest attempt of Dennis Quaid's and Kathleen Turner's to resurrect their careers, in a decade wherein which their careers were on the wane. Especially Kathleen Turner's - although the commercial flop of this film (generating over $12 million on a $25 million budget) all but virtually ended her run, which was rather barren in the 1990s, after critical and commercial acclaim in 1980s offerings Romancing The Stone, Peggy Sue Got MarriedBody Heat and Crimes of Passion

Undercover Blues is a screwball comedy that tries to make things work, tries to show that a comedy can be made and based around a husband and wife duo who are spies/cops - yet ultimately its execution, over-reliance on predictability tropes to illicit forced humour, killed off all hopes and potential it had to be an overly decent crime comedy caper. 

CIA agent Jeff (Dennis Quaid) and Jane Blue (Kathleen Turner) are semi-retired and married with an 11th-month-old child in Janie, and together they trade wisecracks and light-hearted banter against street criminals and international terrorists. 

The slapstick humour and farce are daft in this so-called comedy that barely generates genuine laughs; Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid have little chemistry together onscreen and the manner the two leads respond to violence or danger, is so silly but too cartoonish that is in a similar vein to Looney Tunes cartoons. All the humour is forced and so typical with no actual laughs. Whereas the story is practically all over the place that I lost focus and interest in it and when I did, I could care less in redeeming that interest.

Larry Miller's character with that lispy voice that made him even more of a joke is not only annoying and aggravating, but it comes across as not being funny. Meshing domestic comedy with spy genre with mobster films can work - if it is executed well; unfortunately, not so in Undercover Blues where it is done sloppily. Undercover Blues tries to be a little too smart for its own good, yet the humour and laughs are forced and thus, making the film so underwhelming.

Kathleen Turner reprises her role from VI Warshawski, only her character is a lot less hard and tough and she displays more of her subtle characteristics as Jane Blue. Meanwhile, I would've liked Dennis Quaid's Jeff a whole lot more - if he wasn't so smug & he hadn't overacted in his part. Both Jane and Jeff are smart, can take care of themselves as well as each other, but they never exude a real emotion. Out of the two, one could say Turner is the odd one out and is vaguely miscast. Given her turn in VI Warshawski, 2 years prior, the casting directors must've thought that as she could, and to some extent did carry off the tough cop persona well in that film, they might as well have her star opposite Dennis Quaid. The age difference is not a problem here; I just need to feel that chemistry, that aura they have for one another onscreen - & frankly, Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid were just not the right fit. 

The film also feels like a made-for-TV cable movie with its production values; it doesn't feel like a Hollywood production, even with Turner and Quaid in the lead roles. It just comes across as being empty-headed, too cartoonish and overlong, even for a comedy, as I really wanted to go along with the story, plot, the characters and a mere conviction of them. Sadly, this wasn't to be. 

It also plays out as one long gag where they succeed in outsmarting and beating the criminals at their own game - yet again, the way this is done borders on tedium and the situations are amateur in nature ; one wants to see Jeff and Jane come out on top in the end and defeat the bad guys - but when they always have it their own way 90/95% of the time in this film, it becomes a chore and so aggravating, it comes across as arrogant.  

As a spy comedy, this has virtually nothing on 1994's True Lies, which came a year later; it's nowhere near as smart, risky, bold & daring and Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid as the Blues are no match for Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Helen and Harry Tasker. Whereas that film tried to be an action espionage comedy, and succeeded, particularly through the comedy and humour, Arnie and Jamie Lee made the material work -  this is a spy domestic-ish comedy whereby the comedy and humour & especially the main leads, fail to hit the mark, completely. 

Thankfully, we were spared sequels to this tired, smug and overly formulaic crime caper.

Final Verdict

This is an over-broad, at times over-acted detective caper about juggling the duties of being a parent, spouse and a cop and whilst this isn't an unworthy or unwarranted premise, its handling and execution should have been a whole lot more insightful and less cliched and typical. Even though it is a comedy, it didn't make me laugh and smile and the whole thing is passe and overdone to death. 

Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid didn't work for me as a coupling and their characters lacked genuine empathy for me to really care about, as well as for them. 

One can't help but wonder what Undercover Blues could've been and ought to have been like with a director, who could make the cast work with the material & with more variation in the screenplay by the writer and in taking more risks. 

Instead, this offering turns out to be rather forgettable, hackneyed, as well as too silly and unfunny with forced humour for a comedy. 


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