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I Spy Returns

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Whatever nostalgic goodwill one might feel in seeing a reteaming of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in I Spy Returns sours early on in this new TV movie. Like lots of people, I remember the 1965-68 I Spy as a cool show in which Cosby and Culp traded murmured hipster barbs while winking at chicks and fighting international bad guys. The plots didn’t matter as much as the badinage and the relationship between the heroes. (Cosby was the first African-American to star in a weekly drama series, something that was handled as matter-of-factly as everything else in this offbeat show; indeed, there was a thrill in realizing that friendship, not race, was going to be the central theme of the show.)

I Spy Returns, however, is rather pathetic — creaky and corny. Instead of shrewd patter, there’s a lot of tired chatter about how old Alexander Scott (Cosby) and Kelly Robinson (Culp) have gotten. Like Diagnosis Murder and Burke’s Law, Returns offers aging stars who turn the action scenes over to younger actors — in this case, the luckless pair who must portray Scotty’s daughter and Kelly’s son (Salli Richardson and George Newbern). These cubs are rookie secret agents, and an aimless plot — about a Russian biologist emigrating to America — tries pointlessly to reheat the Cold War. Except for the devilish twinkle in Culp’s eyes, there’s very little that will remind you of the pleasures of the original Spy. C-