The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

Watch all of the other spy movies and then watch this one last.  Totally worth it.

16 years ago I hated this movie.  I didn’t think it was funny and I thought it was a terrible spy comedy.  I was wrong.  I was expecting Austin Powers or Maxwell Smart.  Now, after watching movie after movie, I get what they were doing and the genius of him not knowing even at the very end that it was all real, how he’s a funhouse mirror showing traditional spy movie moments, and how silly it is if you don’t take it too seriously.  I also get the joke now that Bill Murray is able to pull off.  He’s a funny guy but the real joke is how everyone else in the movie has to react to what he’s doing.  He’s the comedian playing the straight man to his own joke and forcing the others to deliver the punchlines.  And it’s nice because unlike Ben Stiller’s awkwardness, we get to laugh at all of the ridiculous things that happen instead of cringe.  It’s a very fun movie to watch but make sure you watch enough straight spy movies and even some of the classic spy comedies before watching it, it will make you appreciate things so much more.

Great spy movie?  Maybe not in the best of all time category but it’s pretty close.  It’s probably one of the best spy comedies to be sure.

In our continuing examination of public perceptions, note how it’s a continuation of the theme of out-of-work intelligence agencies dreaming of renewed tensions and the glory days.  In this one they are actively scheming to try and take things back to Cold War aggression.  The irony of course would be their collaboration (East and West) to achieve that goal.  There are actually a lot of spy tropes in this one but it’s the pinnacle of an everyman-become-spy who is “better” at it than the professionals.  Because of the story and because of Murray, it also becomes possible to take a brief look at the things we take for granted in spy movies and just accept blindly.

This one should definitely be watched.


p.s.  The Russian Doll is a nice nod to Bullet to Beijing and the stick figure man is obviously The Saint, not sure what other explicit references were included.