Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul Feig
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Miranda Hart,Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale.
The normally overbearing and rough around the edges comedian Melissa McCarthy is bearable in smaller support roles, such as Bridesmaids and the recent St Vincent, which is arguably her best work. When front and centre as the star of comedies though her vehicles are often crude and unfunny, like Tammy or Identity Thief, and her moutor-mouthed shtick eventually becomes tiresome and grating. So it is pleasing to report that her latest effort, the action spy comedy Spy is actually not too bad. This is her third collaboration with writer/director Paul Feig (following Bridesmaids, The Heat), and he seems to be able to handle his star’s propensity for improvisation and crude humour effectively and brings out the best.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, an unassuming and mild mannered backroom analyst for the CIA who provides logistical support for agents in the field. She usually works with top agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Fine is on the trail of a nuclear device that is about to be sold on the black market to the highest bidder. Fine suspects that the device may fall into the hands of Bulgarian heiress Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a woman of intrigue and power and wealth.
But when Fine goes MIA and the CIA suspects that Rayna possesses photos of all active CIA agents, deputy director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) decides that it would be best to send in an unknown operative. Thus Susan is thrust into the dangerous world of espionage and sent out into the field. She is sent to Paris where Rayna is supposed to meet with a mysterious middleman named Deluca (Bobby Cannavale). She is given a “watch and report” brief, but it is not long before Susan is in the thick of the action, and becomes a sort of reluctant bodyguard for Rayna. A reluctant spy, Cooper grows more confident as the assignment takes on some unexpected twists.
Spy is a tongue-in-cheek comic take on the Bond canon, and Feig subverts the usual tropes for some big laughs. Spy uses the usual template of the genre – exotic locations (beautifully photographed by Robert Yeoman), various double crosses, nefarious villains, and lots of action – but plays them mostly for broad laughs here. Some of the humour here is wonderfully politically incorrect. As a spy thriller/comedy Spy is far more effective and enjoyable than the dire Johnny English films that starred Rowan Atkinson as a hapless and clumsy British spy out to save the world. Spy works as a homage to the Bond films, right down to the garish opening credit sequence, which sets the tone.
McCarthy is not afraid to poke fun at her own physical appearance, and she throws herself into this physically challenging role with abandon. Byrne is wonderful with her impossibly coiffed hairstyle and penchant for swearing, and she seems to be enjoying herself immensely amongst all the nonsense. There is some great chemistry between McCarthy and Byrne as they trade vicious barbs.
Feig has assemble a strong ensemble cast to support McCarthy, and there are some unexpected casting choices along the way. Jason Statham plays his indestructible screen persona and action hero reputation for laughs here as brawny, indestructible and arrogant CIA agent Rick Ford, whose tales of his legendary exploits are quite ludicrous. He brings so much baggage as an action hero to his role here, but his droll and dry delivery actually works a treat. Statham’s presence also adds a self-referential quality to the material.
As the debonair Fink, Law has a knowing wink in the direction of the audience with a performance that combines the cool and swagger of Connery with the charm of a Cary Grant. Miranda Hart (from tv series Call The Midwife, etc) is a find as Nancy, Susan’s friend and fellow analyst, who also toils away in the bat-infested CIA basement. Tall, ungainly and physically awkward she steals many of the scenes she shares with McCarthy, and is a memorable character in her own right. And Peter Serafinowicz is hilarious as an overly sexed Italian agent who helps Cooper.
Spy is very funny, with plenty of laugh out loud moments, and this is one film that could possibly produce a couple of sequels and establish a new franchise. The biggest quibble with Spy is its length – at 120 minutes it is too long for what it wants to do, and there are several flat spots and some padding. Feig handles the action sequences quite proficiently, but his direction is uneven. There are moments though when the pace flags.