Spies Like Us
is the name of a 1985
comedy film directed by John Landis
, starring Chevy Chase
, Dan Aykroyd
, Steve Forrest
, and Donna Dixon
. The movie presents the comic adventures of two novice intelligence agents sent to the Soviet Union
Dan Aykroyd plays Austin Millbarge, a geekish, basement-dwelling codebreaker for the Pentagon, who aspires to escape his under-respected job to become a secret agent. Chase is Emmett Fitz-Hume, a wisecracking pencil pushing son of an envoy who takes the foreign service exam under peer pressure. Millbarge and Fitz-Hume meet during the test, on which Fitz-Hume is openly attempting to cheat.
Needing expendable agents to act as decoys to draw attention away from a more advanced team, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) decides to enlist the two and promote them to the ranks of GLG20, Foreign Service Operatives, and put them through minimal training, then send them on an undefined mission into Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, professional agents are well on their way to reaching the real objective: the overtaking of a mobile SS-50 ICBM launcher.
The main team takes a loss, leaving only Dixon's character (Boyer), while Millbarge and Fitz-Hume miraculously escape enemy traps, attacks, and other certain perils. Eventually the bumbling pair team up with Boyer.
In the Pamir Mountains of the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic, the team overpowers a mobile missile guard unit, and following orders in real-time from the intelligence agency (operating from a military bunker located deep under an abandoned drive-in theater), they begin to operate the launcher. At the end of their instructions, the vehicle launches the ICBM into space, presumably targeting the United States. Thinking they have begun a nuclear war, the American agents and their Soviets counterparts pair up to have sex before the world ends.
Meanwhile, the military commander at the operations bunker (Steve Forrest, looking much like the similarly psychotic General Ripper from Dr. Strangelove) initiates the conversion of the drive-in theater to expose what is hidden beneath the screens and ticket booth: a huge black-op "Star Wars"-esque megawatt laser and collector/emitter screen. The purpose of sending the GLG20 team to launch a Soviet ICBM is then exposed as a means to test this anti-ballistic missile system. Unfortunately, the laser fails to intercept the nuclear missile, which is heading for the U.S. and will almost certainly trigger a global thermonuclear war. In another parallel to Dr. Strangelove, the general insists they are prepared to survive underground for years "to preserve the American way of life."
Meanwhile back in the Soviet Union, guilt-ridden and horrified at the thought of having launched a nuclear missile at their own country, the American spies (and their new Soviet friends) use Millbarge's technical knowledge to force a malfunction in the launcher vehicle and transmit junk instructions to the traveling missile ("source programmable guidance!"), sending it off into space where it detonates harmlessly. Immediately afterwards, the underground bunker back at the drive-in theater is stormed by U.S. Army Rangers, and the intelligence and military officials involved in the covert operation are arrested. For their part, Millbarge, Fitz-Hume, and Boyer go on to become nuclear disarmament negotiators, playing a nuclear version of Risk-meets-Trivial Pursuit against their Soviet friends, who lose Eastern Europe when they miss the correct answer to "What Little Richard song was the title of a Jayne Mansfield film ("The Girl Can't Help It".)
- The film is an homage to the Road to... films. Bob Hope, who starred in them with Bing Crosby, makes a cameo as himself.
- The film contains a large number of cameos by filmmakers: Frank Oz, who frequently appears in Landis movies, administers the "Grade Nineteen Foreign Service Board Examination" early in the picture. Doctors in Pakistan were played by director Terry Gilliam, special effects makers Ray Harryhausen and Derek Meddings, and cinematographer Robert Paynter. The Drive-In used as a front for the secret base is guarded by directors Sam Raimi, Joel Coen and Michael Apted, singer B.B. King and writer/producer Larry Cohen. One of the Tajik security guards is played by director Costa Gavras.
- When the courier meets with Keyes and Ruby near the beginning of the film, it is at a private residence in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington D.C. The house next door is seen to have a small sign in the window. The sign actually reads, "Hippies use side door" with an arrow pointing to the side of the building. This is funny due to the fact that the buildings are abutted to each other, and there is no side door. The sign still hangs there today.
- The "SS-50" was a fictional missile. But at the time the movie was made, the Soviets actually did possess a mobile rocket with the range necessary to reach the United States: the SS-16 Sinner (from 1976 till 1986, more than 50 of these missiles were made). However, this missile never reached operational deployment. The film was probably referring to the SS-25 mobile ICBM, which in 1985 had Initial Operational Capability and was fully deployed in 1988.
- The theme song was performed by Paul McCartney. It hit #7 on the Billboard chart (making it his last US Top 20 hit to date) but was not included on any of McCartney's albums and has disappeared even from oldies radio playlists in recent years, though it still receives periodic airplay on satellite radio. The video features McCartney and the film's stars Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd; at the end of the clip, the three can be seen walking across Abbey Road. Inexplicably, in the closing credits the song is played outtro first, followed by first half of the song.
- The target of the missile strike on the United States in the movie is revealed to be Detroit, Michigan. This is spelled in Cyrillic characters on the upper right of the control panel display on the ICBM launcher when the missile is being guided away from its target. However, in a later scene, the missile is seen heading down toward New York.
- In the Tadjik cabin (set in Norway in real life) in which Fitz-Hume is interrogated, there were film posters of Reds and Doctor Zhivago.
- A map for the Battlefield 2 mod Point of Existence was made called Spies Like Us. It is set in the Pamir Mountains and includes the SS-50 as a control point.
- The ribbon which Generals Miegs and Sline wear above their name tags, is the Presidential Unit Citation. While it is correct for Army personnel to wear the ribbon above the name tag, Air Force personnel, like General Sline, wear the ribbon on the left side, along with all other ribbons and devices.
- In the episode titled "Chuck Versus the Marlin" of the NBC television series "Chuck", the characters find a listening device that is a series GLG20.
- In a 1981 interview with Gene Shalit on "The Today Show", Dan Aykroyd and comedic partner John Belushi mentioned that their upcoming project would be a movie about spies that work for the department of defense (and that was all they were willing to say at the time). The part of Fitz-Hume eventually went to Chevy Chase, who worked with Belushi early on in National Lampoon's "Lemmings" as well as "Saturday Night Live" and was something of a friendly rival during that time.