Saturday, June 6, 2015

Review: Spy

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. 
Melissa McCarthy teams up once again with Paul Feig, her "Bridesmaids" director, and as a result lands the best role for her talents since her breakout performance and Oscar nomination for that 2011 film.

"Spy," which is sort of a sendup of James Bond films and the like, does not deviate very far from the familiar story lines and cliches of that genre, but it does a fine job of subverting and poking fun at them. The picture even opens with a theme song that would sound right at home in a Bond film and includes locales scattered across the globe where 007 might be chasing down a terrorist.

In this film, McCarthy's unassuming Susan Cooper, who holds a CIA office job and is the voice in the earpiece of super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law), ends up being the one to take on a bevy of terrorists, including the daughter (Rose Byrne) of a Bulgarian master criminal and an Italian (Bobby Cannavale) who trades weapons on the black market.

When the agency is compromised and Byrne's Rayna gets her hands on the names of all the CIA's operatives, the agency head (Allison Janney) decides to send in a novice who will not be recognized by the criminals involved in the ring attempting to trade a nuclear weapon. So, naturally, the job falls to Cooper. An aspect of the film that I particularly liked is how a large chunk of the picture is not spent showing Cooper trying to prove herself, but rather we see that she is resourceful and just as handy in a pinch as her male counterparts.

One of the film's many running gags is how the CIA dresses its spies in debonair or slick costumes, but forces Cooper to dress like a midwestern Avon lady or in another particularly dreadful getup that McCarthy hilariously notes "looks like somebody's homophobic aunt."

Nearly matching McCarthy in joke delivery, surprisingly, is Jason Statham, a disgruntled CIA operative who resents that a 40-year-old woman with no experience is taking his place on the mission and goes out of his way to show how badass he is, but with mostly disastrous results. Statham is typically stuck playing the lead in violent action movies, but he proves here he has some definite comedic talent.

Feig is quickly becoming the go-to filmmaker for smart, female-oriented comedies. For my money, "Bridesmaids" remains the gold standard for mainstream comedy this decade thus far and his follow-up, "The Heat," was also pretty funny. "Spy" doesn't reach the heights of the former, but it's certainly as good as - and, perhaps, better than - the latter. It has some of the biggest laughs of any film so far this year.

And I'm glad to see McCarthy get a deserving vehicle for her talents. Following her "Bridesmaids" breakthrough, she seemed to get stuck in every comedy calling for a loud and boisterous woman and the results were mostly middling. Here, she shows that, yes, she can be crude as any male comedic star, but also that she is a talented comedienne suited for smart and funny material. "Spy" is one of the few bright spots in this summer's Hollywood lineup so far.

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