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Thursday, Jan. 4, 2007 01:01 am

The lighter side of spies

Plenty of spoofs about spooks

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Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon star in The Good Shepherd
Untitled Document The Good Shepherd presents a realistic view of the Central Intelligence Agency, but sometimes it is difficult to take the world of spying seriously. Movies have often taken a lighthearted poke at spies. James Bond movies are borderline spoofs, and their success opened the floodgates of lunacy in the ’60s. Check the bottom of the barrel for The Fat Spy (1966), with Jack E. Leonard, Phyllis Diller, and Jayne Mansfield; The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966), starring the comedy team of Allen and Rossi; and Operation Kid Brother (1967), with real-life kid brother Neil Connery. The deadly serious The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) inspired the brilliant title variation The Spy with a  Cold Nose (1966). The attempt at an American Bond with the Matt Helm series, starring the lifeless Dean Martin, wasn’t much better. Our Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967), with James Coburn in the title role, were far more successful in this endeavor. Those two films were good, but Coburn topped them with the satire The President’s Analyst (1967). Apparently that’s one job you can’t quit, which makes him the target for government assassins. This great cult film wonderfully reflected its tumultuous decade, but the subject is ripe for a contemporary treatment. The espionage heyday died down a bit after the ’60s, and bad spy spoofs appeared more sporadically. S*P*Y*S (1974) reunited Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland from M*A*S*H (1970) and shamelessly ripped off its title. Spies Like Us (1985), with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd from Saturday Night Live, is another star pairing that never rose above its gimmick. Sneakers (1992) is one of those movies with an eclectic cast that should have failed. Instead, it is witty and exciting. Robert Redford leads a group of security experts (Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix) who get in way over their heads with a stolen security system. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) purports to be a true story, but only the most gullible would believe it. Chuck Barris, the creator of the humiliation-game-show format (The Newlywed Game), claims to have been moonlighting as a CIA assassin while hosting The Gong Show. George Clooney made the odd decision to debut as director with this bizarre story, but the result is surprisingly good. Considering the difficulty the current administration has with intelligence, maybe this story is believable.

New on DVD this Tuesday (Jan. 9): The Illusionist, Crank, Bandidas, Idiocracy, Color of the Cross, and Quinceañera.
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