When I think of spy films, there are only two types I think of. One is the ultra sleek, ultra cool spy thriller made famous by the millions of James Bond films. The heroes smoke tons of cigarettes, wear snappy clothing and can figure out even the most cunning of villains’ plans. The other type is the spy satire such as Austin Powers or Pink Panther. These heroes bumble through their investigations often getting in situations that put their investigation into peril only by their own stupidity. These two types seem to be at the opposite side of the spectrum without anything balancing it out in the middle. But if you are in the mood to watch someone who is smart, confident at his (or her) job and still have a laugh you have little to choose from. That is until you watch this film.
Hopscotch is about an aging CIA agent who gets transferred out of field work and into a desk job when he pisses off his boss. In retaliation, he decides to write a memoir of everything that he has witnessed during his time in the field. He mails his chapters to several embassies around the world including the CIA and the Russian KGB. His memoirs include facts, observations and events that are damaging to both parties, so a cat and mouse chase ensues. The agent cleverly evades his colleagues in many ways that are clever, intuitive and never just lucky. He is always a man with a plan no matter what. This may seem like the first type of spy thriller I described above that is until you realize it is Walter Matthau. Walter Matthau is one of those men who can never be taken completely serious in any film he is in. So throughout his getaway and his writing, he cracks jokes, fakes accents, pulls tricks on his colleagues and makes kissy face at a retired double agent. The healthy sense of humor that Matthau brings to the character imbues him with a sense of reality. No one is a rock solid serious man all of the time in real life. Even CIA agents need a chance to relax.
This film will not answer tough questions or give you pause to think about the precarious situation we are in, but it will provide an hour and half of solid entertainment. Matthau as an actor is irresistable in his charm and finesse with every character he plays so it is quite enjoyable to watch him on-screen. He does small things that get me like scowling at the picture of his old boss while writing in his summer-house, casting his daughter as the pilot and then have her say that his character reminds her of her father or brushing off petty things like stealing a cop car or making his boss damage his own house. These moments make you think that this film could be revolutionary but it falls a little short. There were no real bad guys, just guys who Matthau were lovingly annoyed with. The threat of him getting taken out by his own side or them taking his double agent love is never given enough weight to truly believe that he was ever in any danger. This film was like a nice long hug. Sometimes you need nice long hugs in order to get through a day and push to complete other more difficult films.