Synopsis: A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster.
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
Director: Paul Feig
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I hated Tammy…like REALLY hated Tammy. I considered what Melissa McCarthy did with that film to be akin to a criminal act and felt she deserved some sort of cinematic punishment…like being the only person in a Nancy Meyers flick denied the privilege of wearing a cream colored tunic over beige capris. I wasn’t sure that the relationship McCarthy and I were forming after her dynamic, Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids would survive a string of beneath-her stinkeroos like Identity Thief, The Heat, and some audience favorite but comically inert hosting gigs on Saturday Night Life. Then along came a dramedic (yep, I’m using it) role in St. Vincent where we saw beneath the yuk-yuk exterior and we were reminded that she’s a dang good actress.
That good will continues in Spy, McCarthy’s third go ‘round with director Paul Feig and it’s not only the funniest film I’ve seen in theaters in ages but it showcases the actress in her best role to date. What McCarthy and Feig’s script finally embraces is that the jokes needn’t be at her expense, but rather she could be at the center of the hilarity and really drive a picture home. McCarthy has had leading roles before but in Spy she breaks a kind of barrier down, a barrier that welcomes her to true A-List star status, signaling more than ever that she’s a bankable leading lady.
Though I was really looking forward to Spy, being a fan of the James Bond movies and high-tech, big laugh adventures I was worried that the proceedings would be overrun by McCarthy’s frantic take no prisoners improv that only was funny 1/10 of the time. I was so battered and bruised from Tammy’s whopper of a lame knockout that I had some PTSD I wasn’t sure I’d be able to overcome.
It helps that the first laugh of Spy is a doozy, an unexpected moment that sets the tone for the rest of the picture. As Susan Cooper, McCarthy is the desk bound eyes and ears of a dashing Bond-esque CIA operative (an alarmingly pink lipped Jude Law, Side Effects). Pining for the spy who doesn’t love her, Cooper gets his dry cleaning and even attempts to fire his gardener…before ending up mowing the lawn herself because she’s too nice to let the man go.
When the hunt for a black market nuclear bomb calls for Cooper to jump into the field, it’s one strong comedic sequence after another as she becomes the globe-trotting operative she’s only seen from the comfort of secure life. Whether having drinks with a co-worker (the hysterical Miranda Hart), battling fellow spies (a remarkably funny and very ready to play Jason Statham, Furious 7), or infiltrating a dangerous villainess’ inner circle, Cooper seems to be ready for anything that comes her way.
What’s so wonderful about Spy as opposed to other McCarthy projects is that the only thing standing in Cooper’s way is her own insecurities. No one is holding her back, putting her down, or instilling a “less-than” mantra into her brain…any road less traveled is because she’s been afraid to make that first step. That sets McCarthy (and us) up to cheer on Cooper though every tight situation she gets herself into…and she gets into a lot of them in the course of two hours.
As it typical of Feig films, he’s surrounded his star with a troupe of supporting players that are funny in their own right. In addition to Law, Statham, and Frost we have Allison Janney (The Way Way Back) as Cooper’s short fused boss and Rose Byrne (This is Where I Leave You) as the bored bad girl that seems to feel that international espionage isn’t half as interesting as making it to the next level of Candy Crush. Byrne and McCarthy have several good exchanges, even though they are so foul-mouthed that it became overkill at points.
Feig has taken a page from the Bond films and other secret agent parodies and smoothed out the edges. Spy isn’t a spoof of famous spy films but a loving send up of them. There’s a great opening credit sequence with a brassy belting chanteuse, a bevy of deadly gadgets for Cooper to use, each one more hilariously inappropriate than the last, and a plot of world domination that’s 2/3 Dr. Evil and 1/3 Goldfinger. It’s all lovingly wrapped up in a package by Feig and company and presented at our feet.
The film’s pace could have been tightened up a bit and the profanity been taken down a notch (boy, I’m getting old!) but even with its R rating and several graphic genitalia shots this is a film the whole family could get some mileage out of. I’m dying to see the gag reel that will surely accompany the Blu-Ray release because there’s a tiny hint in the end credits that this cast had a great time together. Spy is an unexpected delight, chock-a-block full of fast laughs that, if you’re like me, will have you in tears and stitches of laughter. Worth at least one trip to the theater…and I bet you’ll want to go again.