Will Smith voices Lance Sterling, the world’s greatest spy. “I’m out here saving the world,” he says. “That’s what I do.”
Back at HQ after a daring mission, he’s drinking from his #1 Spy mug when he’s taken into custody for stealing a secret weapon called the M9 Assassin. He claims he’s innocent, that a villain named Robot Hand (Ben Mendelsohn) stole his identity and made off the weapon. One daring escape later Sterling sets off to prove his innocence.
Trouble is, he’s easy to find so he tracks down the one person who can help him, MIT grad Walter (Tom Holland), a junior inventor in the agency’s Gadget Lab. “I need to disappear,” he tells the youngster.
Walter obliges, sharing his biodynamic concealment potion with Sterling. The spy disappears but not in the way he hoped. Instead of becoming invisible the next best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) thing happens. He turns into a pigeon. “There are pigeons in every major city,” Walter says. “It’s the perfect disguise.”
It’s a good way of going incognito perhaps but not practical in the hunt of Robot Hand. “I’ll come with you,” Walter says, “and show you all the advantages of being a pigeon. It might even make you a better spy.” Together they set off to find Robot Hand as Marcy (Rashida Jones), the agency’s head of security, tries to find and arrest them.
Featuring Pierce-Brosnan-era-007-style action and gadgets “Spies in Disguise” is frenetic, family friendly James Bond Lite. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane keep the pace brisk, pausing only to emphasize a gag but the movie works best not when it’s in action but when Sterling is adjusting to life as a pigeon. As his latent avian instincts come on strong, for instance, he finds he can’t resist eating garbage on the road. It’s goofy good fun that is more interesting than Sterling’s human form, which is all swagger.
The script, by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, also mines a considerable amount of humor from the odd couple pairing of Sterling and Walter. Sterling is a shoot first and ask questions later kind of spy while Walter favors unusual methods, like disarming the baddies with wild, glittery cat videos because, well, everyone loves a cat video. “You can do more by bringing people together than blowing them up,” he says.
“Spies in Disguise” is buoyant enough to entertain the eye but the messages for kids about the benefits of being part of a flock and celebrating our differences are expertly woven throughout.