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Film / Spies Like Us

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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 Soviet 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.
  • The Ace: Millbarge, especially in comparison to Fitz-Hume. His Establishing Character Moment showing his job as a tech-guy somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon has him showing his boss the decoding and translation of an encrypted Russian message he was asked to do, and the two of them explaining how complicated (or from Millbarge's point of view, simple) the code was… before Millbarge then shows his boss what he used to decode it: one of those code-watches that come inside of cereal boxes. He's also fluent in multiple languages and combat trained. There's really no reason to assume that Millbarge would have been unsuccessful if paired with a competent partner (which he eventually finds in the form of Boyer).
  • 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.
  • Actor Allusion: Austin is the one who identifies the song "Soul Finger" by the Bar Kays playing in the distance. Dan Aykroyd covered the song as part of the Blues Brothers.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Our heroes fight over the binoculars so they can perv on Vanessa Angel zipping up her jumpsuit.
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: Many parodies of arcane abbreviations rattled off by government and military folks. GLG-20, OIO, NATSAT, WAMP, JamScram, SatScrambler... on top of real ones like FSB, CIA, DIA, SatCom, GravSat.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The American anti-missile laser array, which takes forever to get ready to fire and misses an incoming missile that mission control had plenty of time to know was coming (because they were the ones who ordered it to fire) by a mile, only managing to blow up an MTV satellite.
  • The Bait: Millbarge and Fitz-Hume. They're even referred explicitly as such, even by the real GLG-20 officers.
  • 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Russian phrase Millbarge uses to trick the KGB agents translates as "The less you know, the better".
    • The Russian on the control screen on the SS-50 rocket launcher shows that the missile was aimed at Detroit.
  • Bribe Backfire: Emmett's attempts to bribe his way to a passing grade don't do him much good.
  • Cameo Cluster: The movie is full of them: Sam Raimi, Costa-Gavras, The Coen Brothers, Terry Gilliam, Frank Oz, B.B. King, Ray Harryhausen. Also Bob Hope, as a Shout-Out to the Road to ... pictures he made.
  • 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.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Fitz-Hume and Milzarge become this when the GLG-20 team that was meant to do the actual mission gets ambushed and one of the agents gets killed.
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Rhombus. 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 Rhombus' 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).
  • Decoy Convoy: Fitz-Hume and Millbarge are just released in the Middle East and told to wander around in the hope that they will distract the KGB from the real GLG-20 mission. However, the real team is intercepted by a random patrol and one of the agents is killed, forcing the remaining agent to ask Fitz-Hume and Millbarge to help her.
  • Doctor, Doctor, Doctor: An Overly Long Gag within the movie.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Millbarge, by his own admission.
    Millbarge: 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.
  • The '80s: Done during the height of the Cold War and it shows. Also showcasing a quick Take That! to an early MTV.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The CIA only thinks that the nuclear launch is to demonstrate their technical prowess using a real weapon. When it misses, Sline admits that the entire goal was to start World War III, saying that an unused weapon (in this case, nuclear weapons) is a waste of resources, and thermonuclear war is the best option. Both CIA agents are aghast, and Forced to Watch.
  • 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.
  • Expy: Steve Forrest's villainous General Sline (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 without any hesitation or regret. His voice sounds the same, and his hair even looks similar, with his appearance missing only the cigar.
  • Explosive Instrumentation: Somehow the destruction of the MTV satellite with the SDI laser pulse causes a TV to blow up in a bedroom while two teenage girls are watching the channel.
    Teen Girl 1: Wow!
    Teen Girl 2: Excellent!
  • Eyebrow Waggle: Fitz-Hume does this after telling his colleague that he has an "intimate" lunch meeting with the (female) supervisor.
  • False Flag Operation: The true nature of the CIA's mission was launching an ICBM against America to demonstrate a new defense system.
  • General Ripper: Generals Sline and Miegs are willing to provoke WWIII to prove the power of America's nuclear arsenal.
    'Sline:' When we commissioned the Schmectel Corporation to research this precise event sequence scenario, it was determined that the continual stockpiling and development of our nuclear arsenal was becoming self-defeating. A weapon unused is a useless weapon.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In-Universe, the Soviet soldiers guarding the ICBM love the song "Soul Finger" by the Bar Kays. note  However they're not familiar with Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It", which backfires on them during the "negotiations" in the last scene.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: Fitz-Hume actually catches the grenade - and has no idea what it is, leading to to ask, "Hey, what's this?" Millbarge answers, "You don't want it!" so Fitz-Hume calmly stands up in the middle of the firefight and calmly tosses the grenade back, landing in a box of grenades.
  • Guns Akimbo: Millbarge 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! (In fairness, it's meant to be a Secret Test) Then, when the Scary Black Man Colonel wants to show how tough he is, they obligingly rush him one at a time.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Millbarge to Fitz-Hume.
  • Informed Flaw: Millbarge is extremely competent and intelligent, especially in comparison to Fitz-Hume, yet the premise treats him as a bad agent despite pretty much singlehandedly saving the day.
  • 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.
  • Knight of Cerebus: General Sline is the only villainous character in the whole film that isn't played for laughs in any way and is the reason the climax nearly ends with World War III breaking out.
  • The Load: Fitz-Hume basically is one during the entire film, with Millbarge, who at least is book smart, doing most of the deductions. (Heck, the only reason Millbarge didn't pass the test was that 1) his superior deliberately withheld the date of the test to the day of, and 2) Fitz-Hume distracted him by cheating.)
  • Make Games, Not War: The final scene of the movie has an American and Soviet politician playing Trivial Pursuit together. If someone whiffs their question, they lose a real missile silo, represented by taking markers off of a Risk board.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": By the Americans and Soviets when they see the ICBM is launched.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: "And to think my high school guidance counselor said I'd never amount to anything." Which leads to a "Eureka!" Moment.
  • 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 chutzpah. 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.
  • A Nuclear Error: After a Soviet missile is launched at the United States, the American spies who did it realize that they've started World War III. However, one of them remembers that the missile has "source-programmable guidance", so they transmit a signal to it that causes it to fly out into space and explode. Not only do nuclear missiles not have such an option, it would be impossible for the missile to change course that way.
  • 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) Millbarge look just as confused as the rest of us.
  • Oh, Crap!: Multiple times during Fitz-Hume and Millbarge's training:
    • When they're pushed out of the airplane for parachute training
    • When they stick their heads out of the mud for the live fire training
    • When they're lit on fire for the "high temperature" training
    • The KGB agents, in their second appearance at the Tajik patrol station, when Fitz-Hume throws their grenade back into the building... and it lands in their box of grenades.
    • Fitz-Hume, Millbarge, and the Soviet missile team, when the missile is launched.
    • A muted one from Sline when the missile is successfully recalled and destroyed (by the GL Gs).
  • One Phone Call: After Fitz-Hume is captured by the Tadzik Highway Patrol inside the Soviet Union, he asks "Don't I get a phone call?" This is a joke based on Americans thinking that U.S. policies apply in other countries.
  • 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: Millbarge and Fitz-Hume greet a group of doctors by individually addressing each with "Doctor," to which each replies "Doctor," leading to 30 seconds of dialogue consisting of a single word. Ending with: Millbarge: "We're not doctors!"
  • Overly Stereotypical Disguise: Inverted. The two KGB Special Agents' "American" disguises seem like they were inspired by Malibu Ken dolls, since they consist of bleached blonde hair and preppy, pastel-colored clothing - complete with their own baby blue Jeep - in rural Pakistan. Of course, neither Emmet nor Austin are suspicious of them until the latter notices that one of them is wearing a Russian-made wristwatch.
  • Popcultural Osmosis: For the record, before the Family Guy spoof, this page didn't exist.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Sir Paul McCartney for the titular song, which plays over the end credits.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: After realising that they appear to have started World War Three, Emmett Fitz-Hume suggests to Karen Boyer that they go Out with a Bang. She says that any other time she'd tell him to go to hell, but considering the circumstances she agrees to go into a tent with him. This leaves The Squadette with two other soldiers plus Austin Millbarge, who naturally assumes she'll pick one of her fellow Soviet soldiers...only for both men to go into a tent together. That leaves Millbarge and the Soviet woman eyeing each other shyly...
  • Preppy Name: Emmett Fitz-Hume, who first got his job out of nepotism.
  • Product Placement: "Won't you gentlemen have a Pepsi?"
    • Also, the Old El Paso tortilla chips and Budweiser the guys are enjoying when their container is air dropped into Afghanistan. Not least, the box of Lucky Charms that Millbarge gets his decoder disk from.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles
    • While Millbarge and Fitz-Hume are in Pakistan, several times people speak to the native Pakistanis (and vice versa) in a foreign language (probably Pashto, as Fitz-Hume uses a "Pashtu" to English dictionary) with no translation.
    • When Millbarge quotes a Russian proverb to the KGB agents, there is no translation of what it means for the audience, which helps emphasize that you shouldn't understand it unless you know Russian.
    • 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. Rhombus: Boys… it'd be a shame to have to kill you now. [drives off]
    Fitz-Hume: What'd he mean by that?
    Millbarge: It means we're O.I.O.
    Fitz-Hume: What's that?
    Millbarge: Obligated Involuntary Officers.
  • Rousing Speech: Karen Boyer (Donna Dixon) gives an inspiring patriotic speech to Austin Millbarge (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase) just as they're prepared to pack up and go home, rather than face the Russians and their Fantastic Nuke. Karen busts their chops, telling them she's been preparing for this mission for months and even had to bury her partner that day, after the Russians killed him, and she's not about to let it all be for nothing.
  • Secret Test: Emmett Fitz-Hume and Austin Millbarge are sent to a Special Projects Training facility to learn how how to be spies. After they parachute in, they are surrounded by sword-armed ninjas who threaten to attack them. After this goes on for a few seconds, a military officer named Colonel Rhombus appears. He tells them that it's how he welcomes new trainees, because he must know right away what he's got to work with.
  • Sensual Slavs: Vanessa Angel's character, a member of the Soviet missile forces. In Real Life, the beautiful actress is actually British.
  • Shout-Out: Similarities between this film and Dr. Strangelove are entirely on purpose.
  • Shown Their Work: While taking some Artistic License in order to maintain the allure of fiction, the writers put considerable effort into making the movie feel authentic from a military standpoint. This is also the case when considering the protagonist's travels, which roughly tracks with what an actual journey along this route would be like (and when Millbarge mentioned being Kohistan being 150 miles from the Soviet border, he was right.) Also, the "Road to Dushanbe" actually resembles the real-life M41 highway, though the scenes in question were shot in Norway.
  • 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 a missile, blows up an MTV satellite. (At the time the movie was filmed it qualified as Biting-the-Hand Humor — Warner Bros. owned MTV {and Nickelodeon for that matter} as part of a joint-venture with American Express, but by the time the movie was released, Warner-Amex had been sold to Viacom.)
    • 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. Turns out she's the real CIA agent, so she's playing along to manipulate him into doing an operation she's not qualified to do.
  • Title Drop: "You'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".
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Unlike most of the other characters, General Sline is played totally serious.
  • Wannabe Secret Agent: Austin Millbarge is a basement-dwelling codebreaker at the Pentagon who aspires to escape his under-respected job to become a secret agent. Emmett Fitz-Hume, a wisecracking, pencil-pushing son of an envoy, takes the foreign service exam under peer pressure. Both of them fail (Fitz-Hume openly attempts to cheat, while Millbarge is woefully unprepared because his supervisor withheld notice of the test till the day before). Needing expendable agents to act as decoys to draw attention away from a more capable team, the DIA decides to enlist the two, promote them to be Foreign Service Operatives, put them through minimal training, and then send them on an undefined mission into Soviet Central Asia.
  • 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.
  • With Friends Like These...: Our heroes 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!
  • 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.