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SPY (2015) review

June 5, 2015

spyposter

 

written by: Paul Feig
produced by: Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Peter Chernin & Jenno Topping
directed by: Paul Feig
rated R (language throughout, violence, and some sexual content including brief graphic nudity)
min. 120 min.
U.S. release date: June 5, 2015

 

It’s been a good while since I sat at a screening at laughed out loud. I mean genuine laughs – at a comedy. Writer/director Paul Feig’s second team-up with Melissa McCarthy, “Spy”  did just that and, really, I shouldn’t be surprised since I vividly recall gut-busting my way through  “Bridesmaids”, his first movie with McCarthy and my first exposure to Feig. “Spy” is a modern-day spoof on the spy action genre, just like “Bridesmaids” was a riff on chick flicks and “The Heat” send-up the buddy-cop genre. “Spy” earns it’s R-rating and will have you in stitches throughout, just like those last two, but it’s timing is perfect because you can add it to the rising list of recent movies that focus on fantastic female characters.

Dowdy Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a smart, quick-thinking C.I.A. agent who has resolved herself to provide surveillance aid in the ear of suave spy, Bradley Fine (Jude Law). While he gets all the action, visits picturesque locales and basically gets his hide saved by Susan, she is left in a the rodent-infested (actually, a great running gag) basement at Langley with other, mostly female, grounded agents. That is, until the worst scenario imaginable for a desk-bound agent occurs, forcing Susan’s reluctant boss, Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) to select her to trail Bulgarian arms dealer, Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), before she sells a stolen nuclear bomb to the highest bidder. Susan actually volunteers herself, since the agency is told that the enemy knows the names and faces of every superspy in their employ, knowing that her ordinariness will provide a low-profile.

 

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To maintain her ordinary appearance, she is given accentuated (and humiliating) aliases that cleverly (and cruelly) play to stereotypes placed upon overweight women. Nevertheless, Susan is determined to prove herself in the field, plowing her way through any hiccups while in Europe, including an obnoxious rogue agent, Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who doesn’t believe she can handle her assignment and Italian liaison, Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), a horndog who cannot stop throwing innuendos and advances toward Susan. In each situation and alias, Susan realizes with a strengthening confidence that she is just as capable as a superspy to complete her mission with courage, intelligence and any means necessary.

There are moviegoers and critics who’ve already grown tired of Melissa McCarthy. They have their reasons and I suppose I could understand them when considered some of the comedy dreck she’s headlined, like 2013’s “Identity Thief” and last summer’s “Tammy”. Maybe they feel that since her “Bridesmaids” breakthrough (which earned her a Best Supporting Actor nomination) McCarthy’s continuously playing the same character. There may be truth to that, considering her roles in Judd Apatow’s “This is 40” and “The Hangover III” are of the token “foul-mouthed fat chick”. Part of the reason for those roles could be McCarthy’s choice and part of it could be that this is how Hollywood sees her, which is why they’re offered to her. But when I look at her role in “Spy” and her other characters in Feig’s movies, I don’t see eye-rolling repetition. In fact, to those who’ve written off McCarthy, they need to check her out in this movie.

 

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McCarthy definitely carries “Spy”, but her supporting cast are a group of eclectic spot-on actors who are more than game to play characters that spoof what we’ve seen over and over again in the spy genre. Jude Law is a fitting choice to play a handsome Bond-type, who isn’t too in love with himself to acknowledge that he couldn’t do his job without Susan. Jason Statham though is the big surprise here, primarily because he’s never been given an opportunity to flex his comic muscles with such ease (sure some of the situations in his actions flicks have been hilarious, but he’s usually playing the role straight). Statham’s Ford brims with an absurd over-confidence, in which he boasts his indestructibility, yet barely warrants it by his actions and this combination provided some of the best lines/scenes in the movie. Allison Janney is dead-on as the equivalent to M, in a no-nonsense role that offers some great zinger lines and funny expressions. Then there’s Rose Byrne, who has come to pretty much be the MVP in any movie she’s in, certainly any comedy she’s in. Just thinking of her work in “Bridesmaids”, last year’s “Neighbors” and the recent “Adult Beginners”, Byrne’s presence is often a refreshing highlight. That happens here for sure, but elevated even more to a consistently hysterical level. Her interaction with the villainous Sergio DeLuca (her real-life boyfriend, Bobby Cavanale) and response to Susan’s BFF, Nancy (Miranda Hart, “Call the Midwife”) offer some of the movie’s most memorable scenes.

There’s also some funny small parts for repeat Feig players, such as Michael McDonald (as the equivalent of Q) and McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone (playing a tourist looking for Popeye’s chicken). A couple other standouts are Morena Baccarin, playing Karen Walker, a beautiful colleague of McCarthy’s who gets all the men’s attention and in her American debut, Nargis Fakhri, who poses a physical threat for McCarthy’s agent – especially in one amazing fight sequence in a kitchen that reminded me of “The Raid 2”.

NOTE: Here’s how good “Spy” is –  rapper and wanna-be actor 50 Cent shows up near the end, playing himself and doesn’t nosedive the movie like he does every other movie he’s been in. So, even with him, this movie is great!

 

spybyrne

 

But the success of “Spy” really comes down to two things: McCarthy’s performance and Feig’s writing/directing (alright, maybe that’s three things). From the start, McCarthy is so entertaining and enjoyable to watch, but most rewarding is seeing her character’s story arc go from insecure and self-deprecating to self-assured and strong. This is her best leading role yet by far. What Feig does with the genre though is witty and delightful, with some unforeseen twists too. It’s apparent in the opening credit 007 homage, in the inappropriate gadgets (they’re disguised as personal hygiene aids) given to McCarthey’s character and the hotel the agency puts her up in France. It’s all so fun and funny. One expects sex jokes in an R-rated comedy, but Feig surprisingly splatters “Spy” with spurts of bloody violence that actually boosts the action and the stakes to another level.

“Spy” may feel a tad long after a while, but it’s never excessive since Feig keeps the action comedy running along at a buoyant pace. That being said it does get a little too loose and goofy as the movie concludes, but by then it’s kind of like watching a climatic fireworks display. Speaking of fireworks, be sure to stick around for some funny end credit scenes – ALL the way to the end.

Ultimately, Feig trusts his cast and McCarthy earns every moment she’s given in “Spy” making the most of the opportunity Feig gives her to show Susan’s frustrations and ambitions. The tone of the comedy is solid throughout and the action sequences are thrilling. It reminded me of the first time I saw “Top Secret!” or “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”. I’ve had my reservations about the two of them working on a reboot of “Ghostbusters”, but after this, I’m optimistic. Right now though, I would readily welcome more misadventures with Susan Cooper and friends.

 

spyscooter

 

RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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