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MOVIE REVIEWS : Actors Misused in ‘Trouble With Spies’

When Ruth Gordon, looking spry, dotty and feisty as ever, suddenly appears on screen in the “new” movie, “The Trouble With Spies” (citywide), she makes you catch your breath. Were the reports two years ago of this great actress-writer’s demise, as with Mark Twain’s, “greatly exaggerated?” Alas, no. The movie is also without life and should have been left in peace.

“Trouble” is writer-director Burt Kennedy’s latest film. But “latest” is a misnomer. Though now in its first theatrical release, it was originally shot in 1984 as an HBO production. Based on a novel with the unpromising title “Apple Spy in the Sky,” it’s exactly the sort of movie Kennedy didn’t make in his ‘60s heyday--when he specialized in enjoyable middle-budget Westerns like “Support Your Local Sheriff” and “Welcome to Hard Times.”

It’s an attempt at a gently spoofy comedy sendup of espionage thrillers, with bumbling hero Appleton Porter (Donald Sutherland) stumbling his lisping, oafish way though a maze of nubile women, colorful eccentrics and exotic killers. Most of this takes place in a sultry hotel in Ibiza--which, here, has all the exoticism of a canasta tournament.

If you’re going to waste your time looking at a bad movie, there is worse company to spend it with than Sutherland, Gordon, Ned Beatty, Michael Hordern and Robert Morley. And there are worse directorial hands than the ingratiating, easygoing Kennedy’s to guide them. Unfortunately most of these people would probably be just as much fun--or more--playing canasta than doing what they’re asked to do here.

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Within minutes, before the credits, Kennedy throws away one of his main surprises--and what he has left is a sentimental comedy about sinister KGB-versus-CIA machinations, a John Le Carre plot in a Joe Camp style, in which the most memorable moments are those Sutherland shares with a guard pooch named Bruce. The only cheering thought about “The Trouble With Spies” is that no further adventures of Appleton Porter are likely to follow--unless, of course, Sylvester Stallone decides to take up the role. Personally, we’d rather have seen Ruth Gordon as Rocky Balboa or Michael Hordern as Rambo.


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