Film / Spies Like Us

A 1985 comedy directed by John Landis, Spies Like Us basically resembles a Hope/Crosby Road to ... picture updated for The '80s. The film follows the misadventures of two novice intelligence agents sent to the Soviet Union as disposable decoys for the real agents. The movie stars Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Steve Forrest, and Donna Dixon.

Two totally incompetent applicants, Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Millbarge, are chosen from a CIA recruitment program. They are parachuted into Pakistan and eventually end up in Afghanistan, chased by the Russians, where they learn they are being used as decoys to draw out the Sovet defenses. Two real spies are sent in. Their mission is to hijack a Soviet missile launcher, launch the Soviet missile and test the new U.S. orbital defense laser.

A Family Guy episode titled "Spies Reminiscent of Us" serves as a sequel to this film. It's referenced heavily in the song "Out With a Bang" by Self (even the title is a quote from the film), and there are also multiple references in the NBC show Chuck.

Tropes Like Us:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: The final scene has Fitz-Hume and Millbarge working on "peaceful negotiations for nuclear disarmament" with the Russian government (read: making Russia bet their silos on a combination between Risk and Trivial Pursuit).
  • Accent Relapse: Once the mission contacts are revealed to be Russian spies, in the subsequent interrogation scene, they have thick Russian accents.
  • Activation Sequence: There's one of these broken up into two parts. First a scene about 45 seconds long where a drive-in movie theater undergoes a transformation into a facility capable of firing an anti-ICBM beam weapon. A minute or so later there's a 1 minute 20 second long sequence where some satellites are moved into "bounce mode" so they can guide the beam properly.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Our heroes fight over the binoculars so they can perve on Vanessa Angel zipping up her jumpsuit.
    • Lampshaded by the female agent: "You two are unbelievable!"
  • Barehanded Blade Block: The military commander is asked what you're supposed to do when you meet ninjas. Handing over his clipboard to an assistant, he then proceeds to kick ninja butt, at one point stopping a sword in this manner.
  • Becoming the Mask: Fitz-Hume and Millbarge take to the role of spy quite well... eventually.
  • Bribe Backfire: Emmett's attempts to bribe his way to a passing grade don't do him much good.
  • The Cameo: The movie is full of them: Sam Raimi, Costa-Gavras, the Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, Frank Oz, B.B. King, Ray frickin' Harryhausen
    • Also Bob Hope, as a Shout-Out to the Road to ... pictures he made.
      • The film gives an acting credit to then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, although he only appears in a clip from the movie She's Working Her Way Through College.
  • Centrifugal Farce: The heroes are subjected to a centrifuge at one point and then go to lunch with their faces and hair pasted back and sounding weird.
  • Chummy Commies: Enemies to begin with, resigning themselves to impending doom and then facing impossible odds with the Americans make the Soviet missile squad and the GLG-20s Strange Bedfellows.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: After inadvertently causing the end of the world, the heroes and their Soviet counterparts decide to at least die happy: Fitz-Hume pairs up with the gorgeous Agent Boyer, while the two older Soviet techs hook up together. Since there are two male techs and one female left, it seems that Millbarge and one of the other guys will be left out of the fun. Then it turns out the other two guys are gay, leaving Millbarge to pair up with the remaining woman; unnamed but played by the very hot Vanessa Angel. Win-freakin'-win. Oh, and the end of the world part? It gets better.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Rhumbus. He knocks out his own squad of elite ninja soldiers, then takes our heroes through accelerated elite spy training. His salutes are so snappy that you can hear his gloved hand cutting through the air.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu:
    Fitz-Hume: (to an army of ninjas) This is my sister. You can all have her!
    • Colonel Rhumbus' rating of Fitz-Hume and Millbarge after the encounter: "Pussies". He then takes them all out singlehandedly.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: The Ace Tomato Company. Also, Mission Control for the military's SDI weapon was hidden under a deserted Drive-In Theater.
  • Deadly Training Area: The protagonists have to go through this kind of training before being sent on their mission. It included having to hide in mud while live bullets were fired at them and being in a simulated plane crash (with the "plane" being dropped from 20 yards in the air).
    • Truth in Television: Really, they were both safe from gunfire thanks to Hard Water. Of course, the test was to see how long they could stay down there under duress.
  • Doctor Doctor Doctor: An Overly Long Gag within the movie.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Milbarge, by his own admission.
    Milbarge: I must really like you, because I don't like horses, and I hate guns! [opens fire]
  • Drive-In Theater: A Star Wars-style anti-missile system is hidden underneath an old run-down drive-in theater.
  • Evil Elevator: The two Ace Tomato Company (i.e., CIA) bigshots enter a drive-in theatre and activate the Pepsi machine. Next thing they know, they're screaming as they plunge down a Bottomless Pit to the Elaborate Underground Base.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Fitz-hume and Millbarge were meant to just be decoys but they turned into formidable people when put into danger.
  • Fun with Foreign Languages: The protagonists are dropped into Pakistan only to be captured by bandits.
    Fitz-hume (subtitles): "If you let me go, you can use my friend's head as a polo ball."
    Bandits all laugh. One of them takes Dan's head in his hands, testing it for size.
    Millbarge "What's he doing?"
    Fitz-hume "Err, he's saying hello."
    Millbarge (taking hold of the bandit's head): "Hello! Hello!"
  • Expy: Steve Forrest's general (who ordered the operation) is essentially a copy of the trope-naming General Ripper, changing the reason for nuclear warfare from "the Russians are tampering with our bodily fluids" to "America must show the Russians that they have the edge in weapons technology, regardless of the body count." This is not any less chilling, considering he's still willing to cause nuclear war.
  • Eyebrow Waggle: Fitz-Hume does this after telling his colleague that he has an "intimate" lunch meeting with the (female) supervisor.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: Fitz-Hume actually catches the grenade - and has no idea what it is, leading to:
    Fitz-Hume: Hey, what's this?
    • After which Fitz-Hume stands up - in the middle of a gunfight between the KGB and Milbarge - and calmly tosses the grenade back, landing it through the window... and in the box of grenades that two Mooks had opened up.
  • Guns Akimbo: Milbarge pulls one on horseback to get Fitz-Hume back from the Russian highway patrol.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: Fortunately, Vanessa Angel has one for Fitz-Hume.
  • Handcuffed Briefcase: In the opening sequence, the courier delivering the satellite images has the briefcase chained to his wrist and the photos are secured to the inside of the briefcase. Since he's not particularly cleared for the discussion about the photos, he's shoved into a closet. With the chain sticking out the door.
  • Harmless Electrocution: Fitz-Hume uses his own body to close an electrical circuit. Partially justified in that he was doing it to save the world.
  • Highly Visible Ninja: In the woods at night, they turn on floodlights, so that they can show off better! Then, when the Scary Black Man Colonel wants to show how tough he is, they obligingly rush him one at a time.
    • This means that either the "ninjas" were under the Colonel's employ from the start, or the less logical but more entertaining explanation they were just a pack of wild ninjas with a portable floodlight setup roaming the forest.
    • The whole reason the main characters were sent out in the first place was so that they'd end up being Highly Visible Spies and distract attention from other spies who were expected to be the ones to do the job.
  • Instant Sedation: Emmett Fitz-hume and Austin Millbarge knock out five Soviet soldiers instantly with "high-compression tranquilizer pistols".
  • It's Raining Men: Austin and Emmett are forced to make a parachute jump without any training as part of a test of their abilities.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: "And to think my high school guidance counselor said I'd never amount to anything." Which leads to:
  • Ms. Fanservice: Unless there's a better reason for why the youngest member of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces crew (played by a then-unknown Vanessa Angel) comes out of her tent into the frigid air and then zips up her jumpsuit over her underwear.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: Emmett was threatened with this one after being captured by Soviets. Only through Obfuscating Stupidity (or actual stupidity) was he able to stall long enough to keep his digits:
    Soviet Agent: For every question you do not answer, I cut off a finger...
    Fitz-hume: Mine, or yours?
    Soviet Agent: Yours.
    Fitz-hume: Damn.
  • Newscaster Cameo: At the end of the movie, Edwin Newman plays himself reporting on U.S.-Soviet disarmament talks.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: They sure did underestimate those decoys.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: One of the two "heroes" (to use the term loosely) managed to pressure the other into helping him cheat on their government promotion tests, through good, old-fashioned Chevy Chase-style chuztpah. When discovered, in order to cover themselves, they worked together by reflex to cover each other. Subverted when the CIA test givers were so impressed that they gave them an immediate promotion to field agents. Double subverted as this was a plot to throw expendable agents into the field as a diversion for more nefarious activities.
  • Offscreen Teleportation
    • While Austin and Emmett are walking away from them and talking, the two KGB Special Branch agents somehow get from the jeep they were occupying (behind our heroes) to standing in front of them.
    • They do the same thing into the highway patrol shack where Fitz-Hume is being held.
    • Both times, Fitz-Hume and (when he's present) Milbarge look just as confused as the rest of us.
  • Out with a Bang: Emmett says the line. Perfectly subverted in that everyone in the group of spies and Soviets gets to have sex with someone, and then they figure out how to disarm the nuclear missile and avert world obliteration.
  • Overly Long Gag: "Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. And Doctor." "Did we miss anyone? Good."
  • Popcultural Osmosis: For the record, before the Family Guy spoof, this page didn't exist.
  • Product Placement: "Won't you gentlemen have a Pepsi?"
  • Reality Has No Subtitles
    • When Milbarge quotes a Russian proverb to the KGB agents, there is no translation of what it means for the audience.
    • The Tadzhik Highway Patrol troops talk to each other and to Fitz-Hume in an unknown language. The audience has no way of knowing what they're talking about.
    • When the Soviet missile troops are talking among themselves in Russian, the audience is given no idea what they're saying.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Emmett Fitz-Hume (who got his job only through nepotism) and Austin Millbarge (who works in the bowels of a civil service building) have this happen to them. Emmett didn't study for the upcoming civil service exam and while Austin initially refuses to help him cheat, both end up causing a scene in the exam room. So their superiors send them to Pakistan as decoys, claiming they would be on a mission of great importance (when in reality, they were just there to keep the fire off the real agents). Except they eventually find their way to Russia, where alongside one of the real CIA agents, they end up saving the day.
  • Resignations Not Accepted:
    Fitz-Hume: We were just talking and we'd like to go home now. So, uh, thanks for the bruises and you can keep the stool samples...
    Col. Rhumbus: Boys... it'd be a shame to have to kill you now. (drives off)
    Fitz-Hume: What'd he mean by that?
    Milbarge: It means we're O.I.O.
    Fitz-Hume: What's that?
    Milbarge: Obligated Involuntary Officers.
  • Sensual Slavs: Vanessa Angel. Yummy.
    • She's actually British, but we'll let it slide.
  • Shout-Out: Similarities between this film and Dr. Strangelove are entirely on purpose.
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Fitz-Hume tries to get out of the Foreign Service Board test at the beginning by "arranging an intimate lunch meeting" with his attractive female supervisor. While he does get into bed with her, she gets upset that he's trying to use her to get around taking the test.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Played for laughs when Fitz-Hume tells his coworker that he's arranged an intimate lunch with the boss. Cut to Fitz-Hume and his attractive boss in bed. And apparently, as said above, he just arranged the "intimate lunch" to try to talk his boss into finding a way for him to not take the Foreign Service Board test.
  • Spiritual Successor: The movie is considered to be related to the Road to ... movies made by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby,.
    • This is given a nod when Uncle Bob drops by to play through a round of golf.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Sort of. The intended decoys' failure to fail would have been a disaster had the real spies not themselves failed to succeed.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The opening sequence of the movie features a satellite marked with "NO MILITARY VALUE". The satellite promptly exposes a camera and takes orbital photos of a Soviet missile.
  • Take That!:
    • The anti-ballistic missile system's laser, after it misses said missile, blows up an MTV satellite.
    • The absurdly long set-up time and usefulness better classified under "Epic Fail" shows that the writers didn't thought highly of the whole concept of the Strategic Defense Initiative (better known to the public as "Star Wars"), either.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: Done amusingly - Shortly after the "Doctor Doctor" scene, Emmett Fitz-Hume gets some alone time with Karen Boyer, and does some Obfuscating Stupidity while bringing his hand close to her chest, eventually grabbing one of her assets and as he goes on rambling grabs hold of the other one with his other hand. Karen's initial reaction is mere annoyance, but after she takes hold of Emmett's hands to get them off her chest, she somehow warms up to him and they kiss.
  • Title Drop: "They're spies... like us!"
  • Title Theme Tune: The promotional song "Spies Like Us," composed and performed by Paul McCartney.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The title characters start off confused and lost but then gain purpose.
  • Tranquilizer Dart: Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Millbarge knock out five Soviet soldiers instantly with "high-compression tranquilizer pistols".
  • What's a Henway?: The movie includes the following exchange when the two hear a strange loud noise:
    Millbarge It's a dikfer!
    Fitz-Hume What's a dikfer?
    Millbarge To pee with.
  • You Just Told Me: Agent Millbarge suspects that a pair of agents supposedly sent to help him and his partner are actually KGB agents.note  He confirms his suspicions by saying something funny in Russian, making one of them laugh.