Movie Review: Spies Like Us (1985)

A famous man once said, “with friends like these, who needs enemies.” That is the loose concept of the 80s slapstick comedy “Spies Like Us.”

When America finds a mobile nuclear missile carrier deep inside Russia, they dispatch a pair of spies to investigate and disable the weapon. To make sure the job is done properly, they send in two teams: one real team and a second decoy team. You can guess who plays the decoy team. Surprise, surprise Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.

Chase and Aykroyd play two reluctant and not very bright intelligence officers who are surprisingly promoted when they are caught cheating on CIA departmental exams. They are whisked through training and onto assignment. It isn’t until they are deep with Russia that they discover they are just targets, not the real deal.

When I think of this movie I often will say Bill Murray had Stripes and Chevy had Spies Like Us. But what makes Spies Like Us a favorite of mine is the fact that it doesn’t try to apologize for how silly the whole thing is especially the subplot involving what is an obvious satire of President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars Defense system.

I still love the classic training sequence which still makes me howl with glee. Of and of course the whole “Doctor. Doctor. Doctor.” scene. I must have seen this movie at least ten times but my most recent viewing produced something I hadn’t noticed before. The movie features cameos from eight different filmmakers.

Hollywood legend John Landis, who is most famous for directing “American Werewolf in London,” “Trading Places”, “The Blues Brothers” and Michael Jackson’s historical Thriller video, also directed Spies Like Us. One of Landis’s trademarks is to have a cameo of himself in the movie. Spies was one of his rare occasions he didn’t cameo instead he featured eight of his closest friends. Sam Raimi, Joel Coen, Bob Hope, Michael Apted, Frank Oz, Ray Harryhausen, Martin Brest and Terry Gilliam all cameo. Gilliam and even Oz even have very memorable characters.

Spies Like Us was the third time Aykroyd had teamed up with Landis. Their first film together was The Blues Brothers where they also shared the writing duties.

I loved Chevy Chase during the early 80s. Fletch, the Vacation films and Foul Play are some of my seminal favorites. Looking back on all those films and how I watch them purely for nostalgia at least once a year, it makes me wonder where Spies Like Us lands in Chevy Chase pantheon.

It hard to say who is funnier in Spies Like Us, Aykroyd or Chase but the chemistry between the two of them have is undeniable and since this script was written by Aykroyd himself I am really surprised their wasn’t a sequel. It might be cool to see a remake as well at some point.

Speaking of chemistry, there was exactly none between Chase and co-star Donna Dixon which for a Chase movie is a little strange. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she had been married to Aykroyd since 1983. So for Chase that must have been a little weird.

The classic Paul McCartney song “Spies Like Us” was specifically written for the movie and became a Top 10 hit. It still stands as Paul McCartney’s last entry Top 10 hit.

Spies Like Us has enough laugh-out gags to satisfy any Aykroyd or Chase fans but it isn’t a classic mainly because it was overshadowed by so many great comedies in the same year. There is also the fact that the movie really doesn’t have a strong core “the bunker scenes”, countless minutes of dreary snow scenes and well the silly Star Wars subplot. I like the movie mainly because Chase and Aykroyd are great together but really that’s all.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer

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