REVIEW: Spy [2015]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 119 minutes | Release Date: June 5th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Paul Feig
Writer(s): Paul Feig

“I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer”

The Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy train continues forward with James Bond spoof Spy after the box office successes of Bridesmaids and The Heat (with Ghostbusters still forthcoming). This installment sees McCarthy as the bona fide star, onscreen for practically the entire duration as CIA analyst turned field agent Susan Cooper. She’s been in the earpiece of top operative Bradley Fine (Jude Law) for so long that she’s probably saved his life more times than he’s killed people, but a streak like that has to end eventually. It’s his demise at the hands of European crime inheritress Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) that activates her from basement dweller to globetrotter. A mole has leaked every active agent’s identity so it’s up to Susan to save the day.

With a sound comedic premise and a brilliant rapport of vulgarity-laced barbs between both McCarthy and Byrne and McCarthy and Jason Statham (as rogue egomaniac Agent Rick Ford), it’s a shame Feig keeps everything at a crawl for half the film by buying into Cooper’s unassuming “cat lady” vibe. Yes it makes for the transformation from unsure pratfalls to cocky badass that much better, but the lead-up is so slow that I begun wondering whether I should turn the film off. It plays into the whole subversion of machismo, though—throwing stereotypical feminine cliché into the mix to lull us into easy laughs before loud guffaws render the second half a hilarious action extravaganza. A bitingly sarcastic McCarthy spewing nonsense without remorse is definitely her best onscreen persona.

Even though Susan Cooper is a field-rated agent, she’s never tried to get in the field due to an unrequited love situation with partner Fine. She’s happy to stay in the background with friend/coworker Nancy (Miranda Hart) rather than fall prey to the glamour and excess of someone like Karen Walker (Morena Baccarin). Who needs the bartender to actually listen to your drink order anyway? But when it’s learned that Rayna has become cognizant of the CIA talent roster, Director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) can’t risk sending her usual suspects. The idea of Cooper going isn’t her first idea, but she softens to it after seeing old training footage of her going berserk. Maybe Susan has the necessary edge behind her calm demeanor after all.

Her transformation’s first stage drags everything to a halt, though. We go into a film like this knowing every good laugh (Fine accidentally killing a crime boss because pollen made him squeeze the trigger during a sneeze) also brings disastrous ones (the inexplicable rodent infestation of the CIA’s operations center to beat us over the head with basement humor). Even so, I never expected a literal fart joke while this spoof’s Q (Michael McDonald‘s Patrick) introduces Susan’s tech gear camouflaged as fungal and hemorrhoid cures. Nothing loses my patience than eye-rolling and I was doing a lot of it until the intensity ramped up with recently-quit Ford popping up in Europe to help/derail Cooper’s mission. He’s chock full of insane anecdotes perfectly delivered with deadpan severity.

It’s this relationship that shows the comedic potential Spy possesses. Statham and McCarthy riffing off each other is fantastic and her needing to protect him despite him believing he’s Mister Tough Guy saves the first half of the film. I say this because the rest of Cooper’s initial fieldwork proves boring too while tailing Rayna and her associate Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) in search of a nuclear suitcase bomb whose whereabouts only the former knows. McCarthy is given wigs and cat shirts to be ridiculous rather than inconspicuous and even after engaging Rayna the wholesome shtick grows tried. Luckily an action event occurs to blow her cover so Cooper can improvise a new farce allowing her to become ruthlessly mean to this spoiled brat of a criminal.

Now the pace increases and the fun amplifies regardless of shoehorned gags like Nancy ruining a 50 Cent concert or the racist depiction of Italians courtesy of Peter Serafinowicz‘s handsy spy Aldo. A bunch of stuff feels like filler, but it never slows down the momentum of Cooper being a full-blown agent taking down an army of soldiers like it was nothing. The twists and turns bring a welcome satirical bent to the genre’s generally contrived machinations and we settle in to what it was Feig hoped to accomplish. If Spy is just the first of many to come, I can confidently guess the next will be better due to the filmmakers no longer needing unnecessary exposition. This entry is thirty minutes too long to be great.

Its pieces prove better than the whole including a memorable Bond-like opening credit sequence, clueless pretty people in villainous roles, and the tough-talking blowhard that is Statham’s Ford. Law’s Fine is entertaining too due to his vane aloofness and Hart has her cute moments, but no one comes close to Statham as far as stealing the spotlight from McCarthy at the center. For her part Susan Cooper is a great showcase of McCarthy’s talents once the kid gloves are removed and she’s allowed to go full throttle. Feig knows how to utilize her immense talents and the two have yet to let us down on that front. She and husband Ben Falcone (who briefly cameos) must start taking notes because Tammy could have used some of Spy‘s panache.


photography:
[1] Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) clearly has eyes for her partner, superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law). Credit: Larry Horricks © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox
[2] Melissa McCarthy infiltrates an arms dealing ring led by Rose Byrne (left). Credit: Larry Horricks © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox
[3] Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) and her fellow CIA operative Rick Ford (Jason Statham) pose as a “happy” couple as they go deep undercover to stop an arms dealer. Credit: Larry Horricks © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

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