Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart
It’s a bit of a flashback to Working Girl, 9 to 5, and Miss Congeniality – comedies embracing a strong feminist bent. The secret weapon in this new action flick – written and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) – is one half Melissa McCarthy comic genius and one half James Bond intrigue. It’s a solid one-two punch, since Bond films are typical sexist and need a woman to show them how to make international intrigue much funnier.
Even with some strong gags and a protagonist we genuinely care about, Spy isn’t as super as it could be. It feels like it needs a few more killer jokes, and McCarthy’s character arc could be tighter and more surprising.
McCarthy quit a teaching job to work for the CIA. Though a fairly able cadet, she gets stuck in a basement, behind a desk, providing recon and tech support for super-suave spy Law. She’s OK with that – deeply loyal and sort of in love with him that she is. When Law’s mission is compromised – along with all the field agents’ identities – chief Janney decided to give McCarthy her chance to play secret agent woman.
It’s a ridiculous (and sort of common) premise – perfect for a skit. However, Feig fleshes it out and changes it up frequently, always keeping Spy moving.
McCarthy is always funny when given options to goof around, and Spy provides her the ability to play both sad sacks and bad asses in the same film. Can you say “secret identities”? The film’s structure also allows for improvisation without absolutely depending on it. Perhaps one of McCarthy’s greatest gifts is she has no fear in looking stupid. Feig seems to know that this self-deprecation works better when it’s for a greater purpose – like saving the world.
It’s nice to see McCarthy being successful again after the double misfire of Identity Thief and Tammy. Those films lacked a solid plot backbone to push the film’s narrative. It always felt like McCarthy’s comedic skill was the only thing putting in a full day’s work. (The basic scripts were crud.)
Spy has more than just McCarthy closing the deal, though. Rogue agent Statham also steals a scene or two. Best friend Hart also has a few wonderfully funny moments. As the vampy villain, Byrne shows of more of her comedic muscle.
Feig’s script allows all these characters several disguises (read fancy and funny costumes). He trots the globe with polish and panache. His story is able to add humor to Bond and Bourne material while not reducing it to ridicule.
Unfortunately, Feig’s plot twists aren’t quite as surprising as they could be. Some jokes – especially the ones around a lecherous Italian spy – fall dead flat. Also, McCarthy’s trip from deskbound lackey to deadly assassin cries for a little more development. For a while there, she barfs whenever things get too gross; somewhere that reaction just goes away…for reasons unknown. We know she’s a physical combat master – we saw her cadet training video – but why she ever hid that or how it suddenly re-emerges is unclear.
Still, Spy knows its primary objective is fun. In that sense, mission accomplished.