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Doctor Dolittle 2, Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash: It’s hard to remember the last time sad sellout Eddie Murphy was actually funny. So give director Betty Thomas credit: She may not be the most adept filmmaker around (The Late Shift, anyone? How ’bout 28 Days?), but at least she’s smart enough to turn the former funnyman loose in a role that completely mocks his whoring ways. In the new and—lo and behold—consistently amusing I Spy, an extremely loose remake of the mid-’60s TV show starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, Murphy plays championship pugilist Kelly Robinson as a money-grubbing head-case cross between Trading Places’ jive-talking con artist, Bowfinger’s paranoid action star, and Shrek’s wisecracking donkey. In a plot that matters very little, Robinson is teamed up with special agent Alex Scott (played by fellow jabber-jaws Owen Wilson) to recapture a reconnaissance aircraft from a boxing aficionado/arms dealer (Malcolm McDowell). But don’t worry about that nonsense. Wilson’s schtick as an incredibly earnest and altogether naive crime fighter clicks perfectly with Murphy’s egomaniacal ramblings; they don’t so much talk to each other as at each other—often at the same time, and almost always with entertaining consequences. One moment, our heroes are caught up in an argument involving the Harlem Globetrotters. (Wilson: “You see, in this operation, I’m Meadowlark and you’re Curly.” Murphy: “Curly? Kelly Robinson’s not Curly. All Curly did was dribble the damn ball.” Wilson: “No, Curly was good. Everyone loved Curly.”) The next, they’re hiding in a sewer after a 20-minute chase scene through the streets of Budapest and getting loopy from the fumes. (Murphy: “My grandma once punched me in the face. You’ve got to love someone to punch them in the face, you know?” Wilson: “Gosh, I know, parents just don’t put the time in anymore.”) The action scenes are never more realistic (or tense, or well-filmed) than those in Herbie Goes Bananas, so Thomas often just keeps the camerawork straight and lets her stars go. A good chunk of the film revolves around a successful set piece straight outta Cyrano: With the use of some silly spy gadgetry, Murphy tries to help Wilson seduce a half-nekkid fellow spy (Famke Janssen). Of course, Eddie’s words coming out of Owen’s mouth sound ridiculous, especially when he warbles the lyrics to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” Eventually, Murphy gets tired with the seduction: “Now just go on over there and bite her in the ass!” Not exactly Rostand, but it is a nice reminder that when Murphy’s on his game, no one sells sass ‘n’ crass better. —Sean Daly