Spy review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Melissa McCarthy can be an extremely funny female, but only with the right project. She’s was a waste as the vile credit card thief in Identity Thief and rather unimpressive as the dopey Tammy. Now back once again with writer/director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), McCarthy is finally being used for all her real worth as an actor. Her weight becomes part of the jokes, but not THE joke. She’s a capable character, but not a Mary Sue. But, most importantly, she’s a laugh riot for a film that requires precise comedic timing and great physical action.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk jockey at the CIA who acts as the eyes and ears for field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Though sassy and bashful in the presence of Fine, Cooper is still in enough control to warn her partner of incoming enemies and guide him through interiors with precise timing. Even when a bat infestation breaks out in the office, she drowns out all the noise to insure the safety of her partner (pink eye be damned). She’s the toughest of the gals in the computer pit - quite literally as it turns out given her training. Seemingly content with her position, she is generally looked down upon by her superiors and practically ignored by Fine whom she fancies. But when Fine is killed in the line of duty, Cooper must step up to the plate as an agent tasked with saving the world from bad guys with nukes.
This secret agent satire works rather well since it’s far more than just a base setup for random gags. Paul Feig actually conceives a decent enough spy plot as a base for the comedy. It’s pretty much your standard secret agent scenario with a handful of twists, but the whole premise is capably conceived with sexy locations and thrilling chases around Europe. There’s enough of a story here to be invested in where you’re more interested about what happens next as opposed to what joke is next. The laughs just come more naturally when there is a real arc present.
It’s also a joy to see McCarthy with some colorful characters to play off so she isn’t carrying this movie alone. Miranda Hart plays her English coworker and gal pal Nancy who fills in as her eyes and ears in the field. She’s perfectly portrayed as the well-meaning friend who is ultimately clumsy and frantic with her tall stature. Her energy is just as high as McCarthy’s, but she gets to have more fun as the goofy sidekick who can barely fire a gun let alone hold one properly. Jude Law mostly plays it straight as the hunky secret agent Fine, but he still has his amusing moments.
One of the incredibly amusing additions to the cast is Jason Statham as the wild card rogue agent Rick Ford. Statham really amps up his intensity to an insane degree the way he scowls and grits to the point of insanity. To prove how intense he is, Statham rambles off all of his crazy stunts to McCarthy that sound like a sugar-fueled kid’s vision of the perfect Jason Statham movie. He remarks how he survived falling from the air in a car while on fire (“not the car; I was on fire”). McCarthy just quietly remarks in disbelief at how none of his surviving stunts seem possible.
While Feig has a decent eye for comedy and action, he grows a tad uneven with Spy. It’s kind of cool to see McCarthy start running and gunning like a real secret agent, but she seems far too business for these moments. Perhaps the film feels the need to refocus on the plot, even though it's clearly the weakest element and seems to mostly develop off camera. It’s not a deal-breaker, but certainly a concern as the film’s tone teeters in the third act.
Paul Feig has proven once again that he can not only write funny characters, but make us care about them as well. Spy delivers on what it promises for being a secret agent comedy that satirizes the very genre it celebrates. The action is just as savage as the jokes which just keep landing laugh after laugh. McCarthy is the perfect ingredient as a secret agent hiding in the guise of an elderly cat lady. Her secret weapons include a whistle as a dart gun and a bottle of stool softener containing a poison antidote. Her mouth can fire off more snappy jokes than a machine gun. And she’s quite astute with hand-to-hand combat. She is the tubby female James Bond you didn’t know you wanted.