I really expected to dislike Spy. I haven’t been as enamoured with Melissa McCarthy’s big Hollywood arrival as some, as I thought that the “Hey, Melissa McCarthy is large and says naughty words and that’s so funny!” joke ran out of a steam just a few minutes into the Bridesmaids credits. And it’s been pretty easy to keep my mildly disdainful indifference going at her subsequent efforts, which whittled between “not bad” (The Heat) and “this feels like somebody is chewing on my brain stem” (Tammy).
So being the completionist that I am, I fully expected to once again be turning my nose up at her latest effort Spy. Instead, said nose was often in danger of violently ejecting soda all of over the place as I laughed my not-insubstantial behind off at one of the most fun spy capers I’ve seen in ages.
Now don’t get me wrong, fun does not equate to no problems, and Spy certainly has its fair share of them. But writer/director Paul Feig – who has become McCarthy’s personal talisman having directed her in the aforementioned Bridesmaids and The Heat – just keeps events bouncing along so entertainingly, buoyed on a whirlwind of rapid-fire dialogue snorters, fantastically fun characters and some surprisingly effective action beats, that you barely notice the script’s unnecessarily pretzel-y narrative logic and occasionally gaping plot holes. And whereas Feig previously had McCarthy destroying airplane bathrooms, here she’s smashing spy genre gender conventions with just as much gusto – if luckily nowhere near as much bodily fluids.
Spy sees McCarthy as Susan Cooper, a confidence-lacking wallflower CIA agent in name only, who spends her days at a desk in a Langley basement providing tactical support to Jude Law’s buttery smooth superspy Bradley Fine through an earpiece and special contact lens cameras. Despite her crippling human doormat syndrome, she’s great at her job. She’s also deeply in love with the debonair Fine who’s far too busy taking down international terrorists and asking Cooper to pick up his dry cleaning to notice.
But when one such terrorist, Rose Byrne’s hilariously elitist arms dealer Rayna Boyanov, ambushes Fine and kills him “in front” of Cooper, it sets off a crazy series of events. Rayna reveals that she knows the identity of every major CIA agent, forcing Cooper’s boss to have to bench her best men and instead send the unknown Cooper into the field to follow and report on Rayna’s attempt to sell a nuclear bomb in Europe, armed with nothing but an ever increasingly frumpy (cat t-shirts!) set of fake identities and just a few gadgets. Cue the international spy-vs-spy hijinks. Even more importantly though, cue Jason Statham.
In a film beset by scene stealers – from McCarthy and her constant transformations from pacifist agent to undercover dowdy housewife to motormouth obscenity machine; to Miranda Hart as kooky beanpole gal-pal Nancy; to Rose Byrne’s fantastically bristling villainous turn; and to Peter Serafinowicz as a raucously oversexed Italian agent – it’s Statham that may just get the biggest guffaws as a bungling macho’d-to-the-max guy spy with a gigantic self-deluded chip on his oh so manly shoulders. In fact, the Stath is so good in this role that part of me wishes he would stop playing those hard-nosed action men that he’s famous for, and just keep playing this hilariously perfect parody of those hard-nosed action men that he’s famous for.
And with the seemingly obvious action star constantly tripping over his own machismo, the film leaves most of the big action beats up to McCarthy, who rises to the occasion with aplomb. Feig even manages to throw in a couple of impressively choreographed hand-to-hand fights which McCarthy manages to not just pull off physically, but also pepper with a Jackie Chan-like in-fight comic timing, even if she clearly doesn’t have the martial arts legend’s preternatural athleticism.
But what she may lack in punching power and hand speed, she certainly makes up for with a devilish gift of the gab that sees her – especially after she’s forced to pretend to be Rayna’s new ball busting bodyguard – spitting out what must certainly be improvised verbal barrages that would be alarming in their vulgarity and velocity if they weren’t often so damned gut-wrenching hilarious. Bullets fly fast, but jokes fly even faster around here.
With this their third highly successful pairing, Feig and McCarthy are quickly becoming to R-rated female led action-comedies what Scorsese and De Niro used to be to mob movies (Only there’s a whole lot more Joe Pesci – without the homicidal streak, of course – in McCarthy). The duo seems to just continuously bring out the unfiltered comedic best in each other – something that not even a frequent McCarthy denier like myself could ignore – and Spy may just be the high-point of this professional relationship and some of the most uproarious fun you could have in the cinema at the moment, even if the gags occasionally fall flat or the script sometimes trips over itself. Together, Feig and McCarthy simply put the “Spy” back in “Action Comedy”. And if you would like to point out there is in fact no “Spy” in “Action Comedy”, then I’m sure that McCarthy would have some scarily anatomically correct insults to throw your way.
Last Updated: June 3, 2015