I guess you might be tempted to call it I Spy redux. Robert Culp teams up with his I Spy partner Bill Cosby for this 1972 feature film that really looks more like a television film. It was written by future director Walter Hill, but don’t expect this to be anything like Aliens or even the 48 Hours movies. The script suffers from a lack of imagination, and it’s no wonder that it’s Hill’s first script.
Hickey (Cosby) and Boggs (Culp) are down-on-their-luck private detectives who are having trouble scraping the money together to even pay the phone bill. Hickey explains it’s the phone bill or the answering service. He figures at least with the service a job can come in. Of course, Boggs counters that even if a job came in, how would they call the service to find out or call the guy back? It’s the kind of dilemma that forces them to take a missing person case when (Fletcher) puts crisp 100 dollar bills in Hickey’s hands. Of course, the simple case turns out to involve a bank heist and a few murders. The boys are in over their heads on this one. They’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cops and the bad guys in order to collect a huge reward for the stolen bank money.
It’s a slow burner almost from beginning to end. There are a few short action scenes, but they’re over too quickly and play out very much like a bad television show. The end finally racks up the carnage with exploding helicopters and a nice shootout, but you’ll have long since stopped caring by then. Cosby and Culp are both very good actors and have proven they have tremendous chemistry together. Unfortunately, even with Culp directing, the film never capitalizes on any of that.
The cast adds to the television motif by including almost exclusively television actors. The bad guy Rice is played by Lester Fletcher. The only other time I saw him was in a hilarious Sanford And Son episode involving the boys moving a piano. He was quite funny there, but he’s as dull as watching paint dry here. Other notable television performers are Isabel Sanford, Louise Jefferson from The Jeffersons and All In The Family. You’ll find Law & Order’s Ben Stone Michael Moriarty. The high point is a very young James Woods in only his third role.
The image is pretty rough, and there’s a reason why this film is now only available through MGM’s Manufacture On Demand series. I had high hopes for this one thinking it was a can’t miss with Cosby and Culp. You likely might have the same idea. Forget about it and watch some I Spy reruns instead. This should have been better. Heck, “I know those guys”.