I wanted to spin a New Orleans-based movie for Fat Tuesday, and this was the only Big Easy film in my collection.
Undercover Blues is a lightweight, inconsequential comedy that succeeds completely on the charisma of its stars and a thoroughly fearless comedic performance by a fast-rising actor. The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and rests on the flimsiest of MacGuffins, but by the end you’re laughing hard enough not to care.
Jeff and Jane Blue (Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner) are the doting parents of baby Jane Louise (or is it Louise Jane). They’re vacationing in New Orleans, taking a break from their stressful jobs as covert agents of the United States Government. Events, however, seem to conspire against their plans for relaxation. On a night time walk with the baby through the French Quarter, Jeff is accosted by a couple of local tough guys, including a manic Cuban who calls himself “Muerte” (“My name is Death!!”), played by Stanley Tucci. Jeff’s superior CIA (or is it FBI?) training allows him to make short work of the pair. Humiliated by a man with a baby carriage, Muerte (or, as Jeff calls him, Morty) becomes obsessed with revenge.
Complication number two is the two cops investigating a crime wave in the French Quarter, (Obba Babatundé and Larry Miller) who are very curious about the guy who took out two career criminals while holding a baby in one arm.
Complication number three comes when their boss (Richard Jenkins) shows up to tell them that their nemesis, Paulina Novacek (Fiona Shaw), a former Czech secret police officer, is now smuggling stolen weapons through the Mississippi Delta.
So while Jeff and Jane try to find Novacek while dodging questions from the two cops and Morty’s ill-fated attempts on their life. Fortunately, the Blues befriend another unwitting couple of tourists (Tom Arnold and Park Overall) who are willing to baby-sit.
This paper thin excuse for a plot is really beside the point. Undercover Blues rises and falls on the shoulders of Quaid and Turner. They are actually quite believable as the disgustingly happy married couple, exchanging witty repartee in the best tradition of screwball comedies.
The supporting characters are colorful but shallow. Novacek is defined by her goulash of Eastern European accents while Detective Halsey, the junior police officer, is not much more than Larry Miller’s cheerfully lisping approximation of a Cajun accent.
Morty, however, really steals this movie, with a Cuban accent that makes Tony Montana seem subtle by comparison and a scream like a schoolgirl whenever he’s frightened or in pain. The part is written as a not much more than a caricature, but Tucci’s balls-to-the-wall performance makes Morty genuinely memorable.
In addition, the film makes excellent use of its New Orleans locations, which give the film a level of texture it probably doesn’t deserve (or require). Until the plot degrades into clichéd chase scenes at the end, Undercover Blues is good for more than its share of well-earned laughs.