UNDERCOVER BLUES attempts to update the formula of the popular 1930s "Thin Man" movies, in which William Powell and Myrna Loy, as urbane husband-and-wife detective team Nick and Nora Charles, traded witty repartee while solving knotty mysteries. Stepping awkwardly into their shoes here are
Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner, as a spy team who have just discovered the joys of parenthood.
Quaid and Turner play Jeff and Jane Blue, a couple enjoying extended maternity leave in New Orleans when the FBI pressures them back into urgent service. The reason for the urgency is an old Blue nemesis, Novacek (Fiona Shaw), an Eastern European megalomaniac who has absconded with the only
remaining stock of an experimental military explosive. Before getting to grips with Novacek, Jeff makes an enemy out of local hoodlum El Muerte (Stanley Tucci); this leather-clad, would-be figure of terror becomes an underworld laughingstock after he tries to mug Jeff, but fails. (Jeff, who
roundly dispatches his attacker with one hand--the other is cradling baby Jane Louise at the time--numbers martial arts prowess among his many talents.) Muerte mounts a series of escalating reprisal attacks, each of which backfires in the face of the Blues' consummate smarts and combat skills.
Meanwhile, the Blues find themselves under the scrutiny of bumbling Big Easy cops Halsey and Sawyer (Larry Miller, Obba Babatunde). The cast of local characters is rounded out by Tom Arnold and Park Overall as Vern and Bobby Newman, two new friends of, and occasional babysitters for, the Blues.
After several comic/action exchanges in a succession of picturesque New Orleans locations, Jeff masterminds a scheme that involves Muerte being taken prisoner by Novacek. Following the signal from a transmitter he had previously planted on Muerte, Jeff makes his way to Novacek's lair, an
abandoned salt mine outside the city, unaware that he is being followed by Sawyer. Meanwhile Jane, together with baby, has eluded the surveillance of Halsey, only to be kidnapped by Novacek's heavies. With everyone finally in Novacek's lair and at her mercy, things look grim indeed, until Jane (in
a quote from PRIZZI'S HONOR) sends her baby flying through the air. The "infant" explodes--the real item having been secretly left in the care of the Newmans--and, after various kinds of mayhem culminating in a bout of mud-wrestling, Novacek is delivered into the hands of the newly arrived FBI. In
the final scene, the Blues sail into the sunset on a yacht, after dealing revenge-seeking stowaway Muerte one final humiliation by dropping him into the drink.
Director Herbert Ross's experience with adult comedies, including several written by Neil Simon (CALIFORNIA SUITE, THE SUNSHINE BOYS), does not help him redeem the manifest problems of Ian Abrams's script. Dennis Quaid is an immensely likeable screen presence, but to say there is no chemistry
between him and his co-star would be to stretch the bounds of understatement. These two actors sit at opposite ends of the periodic table, and bringing them together here produces little more than mild discomfort. The same incongruity extends throughout the film, which embraces as many acting
styles as it does plot loopholes; talented supporting players like Tucci ("Beethoven") and Shaw ("My Left Foot") have been allowed--encouraged--to turn in pantomime performances. The non-stop insouciance soon becomes more grating than charming, and is sustained by some remarkably flat dialogue.
Adding to the film's troubles is the gratuitously "cute" use made of the baby--one scene exists purely so the audience can coo appreciatively as she takes her first steps. Ten minutes of this, and Nick and Nora Charles would have ducked home for a highball. (Violence.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: UNDERCOVER BLUES attempts to update the formula of the popular 1930s "Thin Man" movies, in which William Powell and Myrna Loy, as urbane husband-and-wife detective team Nick and Nora Charles, traded witty repartee while solving knotty mysteries. Stepping a… (more)