Spy (2015) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Morena Baccarin
Small role: 50 Cent, Ben Falcone, Paul Feig
Director: Paul Feig
Screenplay: Paul Feig
Review published June 5, 2015
Melissa McCarthy (Tammy, St, Vincent) re-teams with writer-director Paul Feig for the third time (after Bridesmaids and The Heat) further solidifying their partnership as one of the best comedy director-to-star pairings working today. At this point, they know how to draw out McCarthy's comedic sensibilities very well, and most of the movie is constructed in order to draw out her ability to quip, react to insults, and also use her physicality for those "bull in a china chop" comedic moments when she breaks loose.
McCarthy plays a CIA computer specialist names Susan Cooper, whose job it is to monitor a dreamboat of a field agent named Bradley Fine (Law, Black Sea) and try to give him suggestions (via an earpiece) to keep him safe, based on what she sees and hears from the hidden surveillance equipment he carries within a contact lens. That comes to an end when Fine is taken down by a Bulgarian arms dealer named Rayna Boyanov (Byrne, Annie), who lets it be known that she knows who all of their top spooks are and to stay away, lest they befall the same fate. With a deal about to go down involving a stolen nuke between Rayna and an Italian terrorist (Cannavale, Danny Collins), time is of the essence, so Susan volunteers to fly to Paris surveil the situation as an operative herself in order to get the intel needed before bringing in the big guns. However, her gung-ho attitude, along with a buttinski disgruntled rogue agent named Rick Ford (Statham, The Expendables 3), makes her ability to stay inconspicuous quite the chore.
With Feig's prowess at keeping the comic timing sharp, and McCarthy able to cut loose both physically and improvisationally, Spy earns enough solid belly laughs to overcome its inherently uninteresting plot, carving out something of its own in its over-mined subgenre of comedic spy spoofs, particularly of ones that lampoon James Bond's style. In fact, Susan Cooper is nearly the mirror opposite of Bond. He dresses impeccably in designer suits, and she gets to wear custom cat-print T-shirts and frumpy attire. He gets amazing gadgets within fancy Rolexes and expensive sports cars, and she gets minor ones hidden within bottles of stool softener and a rape whistle. He gets to high roll in the world's fanciest hotels and casinos, while she stays in a rat-infested hovel in 'murder central' in Paris and gets escorted out of game rooms. He's respected by his boss for the best missions, while she gets belittled on a regular basis by hers, who thinks she will blow the mission at every turn. He gets every woman he chooses, and she can't even get the one man she wants -- he's a womanizer, and she gets womanized.
I should also give kudos to a couple of members of the supporting cast, namely Jude Law and Jason Statham, for bringing their own flair for self-deprecating humor to the mix. Law is as charismatic as you'd expect, but also quite amusing in seeing him flirt wildly with McCarthy in a way that seems almost sincere, and yet is completely oblivious to how much she's hoping he'll 'seal the deal' and ask her out romantically. Meanwhile, Statham has great fun sending up his own movie tough-guy persona by going full bore into being headstrong but also clueless, the complete opposite of all of those movies he's usually in where he has the upper hand at all times, no matter how stacked the odds are against him. Brit comic actors Miranda Hart ("Call the Midwife"), Susan's flighty friend in the CIA, Nancy, and Peter Serafinowicz (Guardians of the Galaxy) as an amorous Italian named Aldo, also are quite funny in spots in smaller roles, and their turns here will likely up their market value for future Hollywood comedies ten-fold.
What does prevent me from proclaiming Spy one of the best comedies of the year is that it is uneven, had its share of prolonged lulls, contains some recurring gags that aren't particularly funny, and feels like it goes on too long (perhaps due to those lulls in the second half). At least 20, perhaps 30, minutes could have been judiciously trimmed out to a far more impactful comedy - save the rest for the bonus features on Blu-ray, Paul. There's a redundant formula to the gags that carries throughout, including jokes in which Cooper gets her hopes up that she'll finally be treated with the love or respect she's been yearning for, only to get deflated yet again by unintentional insults. Watching her facial reaction go from beaming to wounded for laughs can get a bit old when it is done too often, and this film does them in bunches.
This is an R-rated release, with lots of potty-mouthed barbs, some gross-out gags, and some surprisingly graphic, bloody violence that manages to not lose the light comedy tone of the film, which shows Feig's deft hand at directing comedy, even if his ability to edit his films down to size still needs improvement. McCarthy continues to prove to be a force of nature in comedy, showing much more range in film's like this to put comparisons to being just a female Chris Farley to bed, hopefully once and for all. She's always worth watching, even if the humor isn't up to par, and she can even save bad films from being abysmal just through her ceaseless energy and willingness to dive all in to get whatever laughs she can.
One thing that's very refreshing about Spy is that it manages to utilize McCarthy's physicality for laughs without the kind of tired fat jokes that followed Farley's career, and could have easily turned audiences sour on the project altogether. As Spy shows, even after three films together, and one more to come in the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, McCarthy and Feig are like the most super of superspies, concealing plenty of comedic weapons cleverly hidden within their routine comedy premises.
-- After the credits, there is a short outtake that continues the movie's final scene.
©2015 Vince Leo