20th Century Fox
Melissa McCarthy is one of those actresses I’d really like to get behind, but, until this week’s “Spy” — a clever send-up of the Bond/Bourne genre — I hadn’t been able to fully commit. In “Spy,” McCarthy is finally the full-on lead and she handles the upgrade masterfully.
McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA agent, but not one of the super suave field agents, instead part of the support unit who sits at a computer in a pest infested basement watching satellite imagery and giving real-time data to her on-the-scene counterpart. Coop’s agent is Bradley Fine, a highly trained killing machine but also a pompous doofus as well.
Our heroine’s affection for Fine runs far past the professional, so when he is brutally murdered on her watch, Coop takes it personally. She talks her boss, played by a hilariously angry Allison Janney, into putting her in the field. Coop gets her wish, but finds out that being a spy may not be as glamorous as she imagines.
Naturally, being that our heroine is heavy and short, every disguise provided for her leans towards the depressing. A cat-lady. A lottery winner. A dumpy secretary. You get the picture. Susan Cooper, however, is about to prove she’s got more up her plus-size sleeve than anybody would think possible.
I liked “Spy” a lot more than I thought I would, especially considering the one-two punch of “Tammy” (which I, to be honest, skipped) and “Identity Thief” (which I wish I had). The nice thing about this film is that Susan Cooper is never the loser everyone seems to think she is. She is always the most capable person in the room, and the movie is really about her getting the confidence to show it. I like seeing McCarthy as a classy character with an agency as opposed to a punchline. Even “The Heat,” a movie I liked enough to rewatch twice, treats her like a joke.
It was especially interesting getting to watch McCarthy, a talented comedian, play the straight man to the likes of Jason Statham, who is by far the funniest part of the movie. Statham manages to send up every tough guy he’s ever played and it’s hilarious.
Also funny is the obliviously obnoxious Fine played by Jude Law. Law can definitely do comedy and while he’s not necessarily the best part of the movie, he holds his own quite well.
Playing the villain Rayna Boyanov is Rose Byrne, who does a nice job with what could be a fairly stock character. The writing for Rayna, however, is some of the more interesting in the movie. Byrne’s character goes through a number of interesting arcs, which makes room for a variety of different comic styles from McCarthy.
Written and directed by Paul Feig, “Spy” provides one more piece of evidence that he is the go-to director for strong, funny women. More than just comedy, the action in “Spy” is top-notch, and I was especially impressed that McCarthy was up for some pretty intense fight scenes, including one fairly impressive one in a hotel kitchen.
The problem with action comedies, however, is the balance of violence to humor. Feig handles it pretty well, but you can’t get away from the fact that when you have two master spies going at each other with butcher knives, someone’s probably going to end up dead, no matter how many times you employ frying pan to comedic effect.
“Spy” is an R-rated comedy so there’s plenty of language and some blood as well. There are at least a couple of characters whose deaths seemed unnecessary, and brought me out of the moment a little bit.
“Spy,” though not at all a spoof in the vein of “Austin Powers,” or “Airplane,” is wall-to-wall jokes. They don’t all hit, of course, but there are plenty of very funny bits and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. I’d say probably 75 percent of the jokes work, which is pretty good, considering. The movie never really moves into total gross-out mode, and I appreciated that, as well.
I hope there’s more on the horizon for Coop and Co. (It’s not a spoiler that she makes it to the end. This would be a very different movie — maybe a Coen Brothers — for her to get knocked off.) Feig obviously likes the character and I’m sure he could come up with something good.
“Spy” is rated R for language, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.