While the military's techno-geek-wooing "Army Of One" advertising campaign is a recent development, in film, rugged individualism combined with hip nonconformity has long been a trademark of effective government operatives. Spy Game casts Robert Redford as one such iconoclast, a veritable CIA Of One who must outwit and outmaneuver his pencil-pushing fellow agents into rescuing protégé and kindred spirit Brad Pitt from certain death in a Chinese prison following Pitt's doomed effort to rescue love interest Catherine McCormack. Set largely in 1991—though director Tony Scott is too much of a style-slave to bother with anything so gauche as period details—Spy Game takes place largely in flashbacks, flitting nervously between Redford's ice-cool plotting and Redford and Pitt's previous adventures in international intrigue. That's a fairly unconventional structure for a mega-budgeted star vehicle, but within this novel framework, Scott crafts a decidedly routine cloak-and-dagger yarn of ruggedly handsome men engaging in acts of espionage-centered bonding in a glossy world full of hovering helicopters, glistening computers, and menacing steam grates. Like all halfway-competent shell games, Spy Game relies heavily on speed and distraction to keep its initially entertaining sleight-of-hand in motion. Consequently, the film is at its best when it focuses on Redford's early Machiavellian plotting and moves forward with the almost comically overdriven high style that's become Scott's directorial signature. Once emotions enter into the fray in the form of McCormack (whose role would need to be beefed up for her to qualify as a plot device), Spy Game crawls to a halt, largely because Pitt has less romantic chemistry with McCormack than he does with Redford. The latter acquits himself nicely, but for the most part, Spy Game functions as a reminder that while international politics undergo constant change, Scott's commitment to facile escapism remains as steady as ever.

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