A film review by Craig J. Koban July 16, 2015

SPY jjj

2015, R, 120 mins.


Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper  /  Jude Law as Bradley Fine  /  Jason Statham as Rick Ford  /  Rose Byrne as Raina Boyanov  /  Miranda Hart as Nancy  /  Allison Janney as Elaine Crocker  /  Bobby Cannavale as De Luca  /  50 Cent as Himself  /  Morena Baccarin as Karen Walker  /  Will Yun Lee as Timothy Cress

Written and directed by Paul Feig

Spy comedies and lampooning the genre are hardly anything new.  At nearly two hours, SPY does have moments of inspired and spirited frivolity throughout, but it sometimes feels far too long for its own good.  Granted, writer/director Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT) seems to have a keen sense of what spy film genre troupes to both adhere to and mock at the same time.  

We get James Bondian elements (like a truly nifty opening credits montage that feels plucked right out of a new 007 adventure) as well a copious amounts of bone crushing/blood spewing violence that bares striking resemblance to something akin to the Jason Bourne series.  SPY also contains a sort of ingeniously constructed – but perhaps a bit too convoluted for its own good – espionage plot that certainly pays loving homage to the films that preceded it.  At face value, SPY is pretty ambitious, even when it’s not terribly innovative as a genre spoof.  

SPY is also another Melissa McCarthy starring comedic starring vehicle, which reunites her with her BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT director.  I’ve struggled with appreciating McCarthy in her various films, mostly because she has essentially been playing the same essential stock persona in a majority of her work: a foul mouthed, insolent, and hopelessly clueless clown.  I respect her as a performer with ample talents, but have longed to see her appear in films that display a broader ranger to her acting repertoire (films like last year’s ST. VINCENT were a step in the right direction).  SPY sort of adheres to the stock stereotypical McCarthy-ian roles of the past in terms of the actress playing up to scenes of broad and bawdy comedy, but here she manages to at least infuse a bit of grounded authenticity to her role, despite the litany of outlandish predicaments she finds herself in.  I appreciate the fact that she has no apparent fear of making herself look stupid on camera, but I appreciate her performance in SPY even more because of the way she does not allow her character to become another one-note buffoon.  In movies like IDENTITY THIEF and TAMMY she was as toxically dislikeable as fingernails on a chalkboard.  In SPY she’s much more inviting and relatable. 



The film starts off wonderfully and legitimately has the look and feel of a straight-laced spy thriller.  In the opening sections we see super spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law, the best James Bond we perhaps never got) on a mission to locate a suitcase nuke.  In his earpiece is the constant presence of desk agent Susan Cooper (McCarthy) that’s always there for him when needed to provide up-to-the-minute tactical information that gives him the constant upper hand on enemies.  Disaster strikes, though, which leads to Bradley accidentally killing a key target (due to a very inopportune fit of sneezing), which leads to him barely making it out of his assignment alive.  Susan, rather predictably, has a large crush on the debonair and courageous Bradley, but the latter hilariously – but unintentionally – puts her in the friend zone on a regular basis.  What’s amusing here is that Bradley has the cunning mental faculties to charm his way out of any predicament, but rarely seems to pick up on the beyond-obvious scent of Susan pining over him. 

Unfortunately for Susan, a new mission for Bradley ends horrifically, leaving the agency struggling with trying to locate that pesky nuclear bomb, which is now hidden somewhere in Europe.  Worse yet is that a Bulgarian terrorist at the heart of the bomb heist, Raina (Rose Byrne), has discovered the identities of many agents undercover, making it difficult for any future clandestine missions to be plotted against her.  This leads to Susan’s boss (Allison Janney) turning to her for assistance.  No one knows of Susan, nor could any enemy target recognize her in the field, which makes her a prime asset in engaging in a mission to infiltrate Raina.  Of course, Susan is a total greenhorn as a field agent, but with some help of rogue agent Ford (Jason Statham) Susan finds her way into Raina’s inner circle, but soon realizes that she may be in over her head. 

One thing that SPY has going for it in spades is its wonderful cast, all of whom manage to find a way to play things straight and over-the-top at the same time.  Law seems to be really relishing playing an uber spy with sometimes-impure motives.  Rose Byrne, as she has demonstrated with one comedic role after another as of late, shows an effective range for playing scenes for laughs without overplaying them; she makes for an efficient villain whose ruthlessness is matched only by her frequent, F-bomb riddled declarations.  Allison Janney can play hysterically frank and candid authoritative parts in her sleep, and here she’s fiendishly effective as Susan’s by-the-book and pragmatic boss.  Perhaps the largest surprise from the cast is Statham himself, an actor with a rather large shadow cast on the film considering his stature as an action icon.  What’s so terrific with his work in SPY is how he completely lets his inhibitions free playing an agent reeking of machismo that stops at nothing to let everyone around him know how indestructible he is (“I’ve swallowed enough microchips and shit them back out again to make a computer!”).  For an actor that has made a career playing Cockney rough-and-tough protagonists, it’s a giddy thrill to see Statham here juicily mock his own image. 

Then, of course, there’s McCarthy herself, who seems to joyously play up to the overt physical comedy requirements of the film (one recurring gag has her handlers giving her a series of laughable cover identities at the expense of her single, fortysomething status, which leads to Susan donning outrageous wigs and embarrassingly hideous clothing).  What’s interesting, though, is that Feig’s script doesn’t make Susan an insufferable wimp or victim.  There are several key moments – like a bravura and exemplarily choreographed kitchen brawl between Susan and a lethal pursuer – that gives McCarthy an opportunity to flex her muscles and get down and dirty in the action department, oftentimes with shockingly gory consequences.  McCarthy matches her brawn in the film with her characteristic penchant for verbal putdowns, frequently making mental mincemeat out of men double her size.  I especially liked it when Susan dubbed her fists “Cagney and Lacy” to one stunned Swedish henchman and then continued to threaten him with bodily harm that involved ripping off his most vital appendage, sticking to his head, and thusly turning him into a unicorn.  Only McCarthy could pull off a scene like this. 

SPY is not an airtight spy comedy.  Its running time – as was the case with a pathetic number of recent comedies – is painfully too long by about 20-30 minutes, making it feel like a messily constructed Blu-ray director’s extended edition of what should have been a tighter and leaner cut.  Bobby Cannavale, a wonderful character actor, shows up in a largely underdeveloped and throwaway role as a terrorist that never utilizes his unique skill set properly.  SPY also seems to try awfully and desperately hard at times to earn its R-rating, sometimes to distracting effective (granted, it’s refreshing to see Feig and company embrace the rating and not water down the proceedings to a limper PG-13).  Still, I enjoyed enough of SPY – and laughed uproariously at just the right moments – to recommend it.  It may not be a completely inventive spy spoof that thoroughly separates itself from past examples, but it works on its intended levels.  That, and it really intuitively knows how to use McCarthy’s abilities in ways that her past films haven’t completely hinted at.  

She’s growing on me. 

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