Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Movie Review: Hopscotch (1980)

A lighthearted spy adventure, Hopscotch travels around the world with a disgruntled ex-CIA agent extracting literary revenge on his former employers. The premise is flimsy, and the humour sparse.

In Munich, veteran CIA field agent and Mozart lover Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) completes a successful mission, but adheres to gentlemanly rules and allows his KGB counterpart and old foe Yaskov (Herbert Lom) to get away. Back at CIA headquarters, excitable section boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) is furious and demotes Miles to a filing job until retirement, promoting agent Joe Cutter (Sam Waterston) in the process.

Miles decides to immediately disappear on his own terms, destroying his file and travelling to Salzburg, where he reconnects with retired agent Isobel von Schonenberg (Glenda Jackson). He starts to write his memoirs containing information damaging to the CIA, and mails chapters to intelligence agencies around the world. Myerson tasks Cutter with leading a manhunt to capture Miles before more revelations leak out, but the savvy ex-agent stays one step ahead by hopscotching across the globe.

A loyal agent with years of dedicated field service and a strong code of conduct suddenly embarking on a selfish campaign to leak damaging secrets because of one boorish boss is already improbable. The screenplay, co-written by Brian Garfield as an adaptation of his own book, then crumples the rickety story with bland execution, most of Hopscotch featuring Kendig travelling from location A to location B with inept CIA agents trailing in his wake.

Even the travelogue elements are underplayed, Kendig rarely staying in one place long enough for director Ronald Neame to build a sense of place. Character development is conspicuously absent, and after their initial encounter, the tepid romance between Kendig and Isobel is relegated to a series of long-distance phone calls, Glenda Jackson literally phoning-in her involvement.

Matthau tries his best to enliven proceedings, but is defeated early by the weak material. For fans of Mozart, Hopscotch features frequent scenes of Matthau air-conducting classical works as the one superficial representation of his character. The strong supporting cast is wasted, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston and Herbert Lom reduced to Keystone Cops competence levels, their characters often shepherded by Kendig to gathering places for the sole purpose of inflicting embarrassment.

Neither funny nor smart, Hopscotch fades like chalk marks in the rain.



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