It takes real gall to try to make a Thin Man film in this day and age. Everything about the original Nick and Nora Charles was made of ’30s movie gossamer: the insouciance of their banter, the blase superiority with which they solved crimes, the sly yet unmistakable whiff of real sex. Surprisingly, Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid are up to this challenge. Unfortunately, everything else about Undercover Blues is not.
The stars play Jeff and Jane Blue, married CIA superspooks with an 11-month-old daughter. The boss dispatches them to thwart the sale of a top-secret explosive to a flamboyant lady arms dealer (Fiona Shaw), but plot is not really why we’re here. Instead, Undercover Blues sets the Blues spinning blithely through a horde of ”wacky” supporting characters: a lisping detective (Larry Miller), a cringing crooked banker (Saul Rubinek), a dimwit mugger (Stanley Tucci), and so forth. On top of the rampant eccentricity, Herbert Ross coaches his cast to overact as stridently as possible, and the film collapses into a sloppy, backdated farce.
Yet Quaid and Turner deftly walk a line between the self-possessed and the smug. The gag isn’t only that they’re so clever, agile, and capable that they don’t even have to try — it’s that they enjoy playing on the nerves of lesser mortals. At the same time, their unflappable affection for each other keeps them from seeming cruel. The movie’s a dog, but you almost wish for a sequel, if only to do right by these two.