I love spy movies. Everything from the dirt-under-your-fingernails realism of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the “Oh, c’mon! Plastic masks don’t work that way!” un-believability of the Mission Impossible franchise. It all started when I was a kid and saw Dr. No. (I was just an eyelash too young to fully grasp what Sylvia Trench was doing in Bond’s apartment, but I instinctively knew it had to be something cool.) I went home and — in one long, grueling, dark, freezing Canadian winter — read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, in order, cover to cover to cover to cover. By Christmas and From Russia, With Love, I’d figured out the Trench/Bond dynamic. Spies get the girl – all the girls. I was hooked. However, after all these years and literally hundreds of movies, I find there’s one subgenre of the spy movie that’s been woefully neglected – the Espionage Rom-Com. There just aren’t that many of them. Here are some of the good ones that immediately come to mind. (Feel free to add to the list.)
Get Smart (2008) – One of the few made-from-TV movies that actually works. Why? Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. They are the natural evolution of Maxwell Smart and (they still didn’t give her a name) Agent 86. He’s no longer Gilligan’s Island incompetent, and she isn’t hiding behind Max’s propped up ego. And, they’re not heavy-handed with the 60s catch phrases, either.
Knight and Day (2010) – Ethan Hunt meets I Love Lucy. Think about it!
True Lies (1994) – Seriously dated (It’s so old Arabs are still the villains! Awkward!) But Schwarzenegger gives it just enough Arnie to make it an action movie, and Jamie Lee Curtis gives it just enough Jamie Lee to make it a comedy. Plus there’s a terrific tango scene at the beginning, Bill Paxton plays himself and, of the roughly 8 million bad movies Tom Arnold has appeared in, this is his best.
The Tourist (2010) – I’ve included this because, even though it’s not technically a com (Depp has his moments but …) it’s definitely a rom. The critics panned it because critics are pompous asses. It’s actually a good movie. Trivia Time. The movie was shot in less than 2 months because Johnny Depp was between pirate movies. It features an ex-James Bond, Timothy Dalton. And rumour has it that it was originally written by Julian Fellowes, the guy who wrote Downton Abbey.
The next four are not actually spy movies but hired assassins are part of the greater international intrigue genre
Mr. Right (2015) – Okay, Okay Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick have made some schlock, but they’ve made some really good movies, too, and together they make this one work. Francis and Martha are the quirky lovers everybody wants to be – going about their business, together alone – while the rest of the world just doesn’t get it.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) – Ryan Reynolds plays Ryan Reynolds. Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson. And Gary Oldman can convincingly play anything on this planet (including Boris Johnson’s comb.) This film features not one but three romances – Ryan Reynolds and Elodie Yung, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson.
Grosse Point Blank (1997) – International assassins have to come from somewhere. This movie answers the question – whatever happened to that stand-alone, moody-cool guy from 12th grade? Plus, it’s got John Cusack in uniform (Does he even own a different tie?) and a kick-ass soundtrack.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) – This is the Espionage Rom-Com by which all other Espionage Rom-Coms must be measured. You can actually see Angelina Jolie lusting after Brad and Brad slowly, unconsciously, then consciously, then willingly, leaving Jennifer Aniston. There are several mere “glances” between the two stars that are hug-your-knees sexy and it looks as if they’re doing the fight scene/love scene for real because — OMG! — they are! Plus, two dance scenes and Mondo Bongo by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros.