Faithful readers of the vault may have noticed my slight fascination with birthdays. Second to making connections to up-and-coming theatrical releases, it’s an easy way to identify potential inductees and celebrate a milestone for a celebrity that stargazers admire. One day this month will set a milestone for me as the wife and I introduce a new cinephile into the world. In honor of such a momentous occasion, the rest of August will be all about babies. If you have a favorite, I’ll add it to the queue.
Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Blue (Dennis Quaid) and Jane Blue (Kathleen Turner) are nonchalant spies and new parents relaxing in New Orleans. Their extended maternity leave is cut short when their boss, Frank (Richard Jenkins), begs them to take an assignment to recover C-22, an experimental plastic explosive, and apprehend the crafty and elusive Paulina Novacek (Fiona Shaw). They begrudgingly accept, but with police detectives Lt. Ted Sawyer (Obba Babatundé) and Sgt. Ed Halsey (Larry Miller) hounding Jeff for his recent altercation with the town’s renown mugger, el Muerte (Stanley Tucci), the Blues have a lot of balls in the air.
Undercover Blues is the second film by directer Herbert Ross inducted into the vault and the first film penned by Ian Abrams. It’s a screwball comedy featuring Dennis Quaid constantly mugging for the camera and Kathleen Turner showing off a lot of leg. Quaid’s Jeff comes off as a jovial rascal, but he’s adept at envisioning the long game. Turner’s Jane is a bit more level-headed; she trusts Jeff and goes along with his crazy plans because she’s got the marksmanship and martial arts skills to back him up if things ever go wrong. Onscreen, Quaid and Turner make a lovely, believable couple.
Both the major plot and the subplots are silly, light-hearted affairs. The duo never seem to lose sight of their priorities which includes raising their daughter, foiling a vaguely-scripted terrorist plot, deliberately annoying the local police, and repeatedly terrorizing their persistent mugger. For the otherwise fearsome Muerte, his defeat by the single hand of Jeff is a blight upon his honor, and no matter how many times he’s defeated or how many teeth he loses, he will not yield. Tucci’s portrayal is hilarious; the way he announces himself, “My name… is Muerte!”, is reason enough to watch Undercover Blues.
For That Guy aficionados out there, Undercover Blues features a slew of popular supporting actors. Larry Miller, sporting an absurd, high-pitched voice, and Obba Babatundé, while ineffectual as cops, make superb comic foils. Marshall Bell of Total Recall‘s Kuato fame play’s Novacek’s thug, Sikes. Dakin Matthews makes a brief appearance as the New Orleans Police Captain. For better or worse, Tom Arnold “acts” opposite Park Overall as the Blue’s friends, the Newmans. Though Dave Chappelle is currently MIA, you can spot him in his first film role as Muerte’s partner Ozzie. Blues even has room to squeeze in Saul Rubinek and Richard Jenkins! A scene doesn’t pass where a familiar face doesn’t traipse by.
Set in New Orleans, Undercover Blues steeps itself in the local culture, giving it a tangible sense of place. Had the plot had more to do with the Big Easy, it may have gotten the attention necessary to make Blues more compelling. Not that it matters, since plots in films such as this exist solely to enhance the protagonists’ wise-cracks and provide the thinnest plausibility for the endless string of gags. Fun and forgettable may not have been the mission of Undercover Blues, but that’s what it accomplishes.