Directed by: Paul Feig
Premise: A CIA analyst (Melissa McCarthy) is upgraded into a field agent and assigned to track a mysterious woman (Rose Byrne) who knows the location of a nuclear bomb.
What Works: There have been several films that have lampooned the espionage genre including Top Secret!, Spy Hard and the Austin Powers trilogy and Spy is certainly one of the better (and arguably the best) of these movies. Like Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, the filmmakers of Spy invoke the classic James Bond films of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras but do so in a way that simultaneously shows fondness for those movies while sending up their clichés and conventions. As a comedy Spy is impressive not only in how funny it is but especially in how consistently it gets a laugh. The filmmakers employ all sorts of humor from sarcasm to slapstick and keep barraging the audience with jokes that almost always land. The film also works as an action picture. In 2011 Paul Feig directed The Heat, a buddy cop film that attempted a similar mix of action and comedy. That film didn’t quite work. The tone was off and the violence and comedy of The Heat offset each other. Feig has adjusted his approach in Spy and here the movie works in both capacities. It includes fights and action sequences that hold up with most anything in the action genre (especially an impressive knife fight between Melissa McCarthy and Nargis Fakhri) while also working as a comedy. The film is helped by a cast in which everyone is at their best. Melissa McCarthy has had a checkered track record, with successes like Bridesmaids offset by obnoxious performances in titles like Identity Thief. In Spy she is more focused and more empathetic than she has been in any recent comic performance. The movie also features Rose Byrne as the villainess who intends to sell a nuclear weapon to the highest bidder and she plays the whinny, privileged daddy’s girl part very well. Miranda Hart is cast as a coworker of McCarthy’s character and she is impressive in a small role. The movie includes two notable performances by its male cast. Jude Law plays a prototypical superspy and Law sends up the James Bond-like character and the pretty boy roles that he’s played in the past. The biggest surprise of Spy comes from action movie veteran Jason Statham. Best known for movies like Crank and The Expendables, Statham is cast as a seasoned field agent and his performance in Spy is reminiscent of Leslie Nielson in Airplane!; he plays it straight, reading absurd lines of dialogue with his characteristically gruff delivery, and Statham gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of Paul Feig’s movies, Spy is too long. The plot is much more complicated than it needs to be for the kind of film that this is and the movie is drawn out by unnecessary story developments that don’t really lead anywhere. While Spy is very funny, the comedy suffers from redundancies. A few of the gags are overdone. The homeliness of McCarthy’s character is one of Spy’s recurring jokes and the filmmakers literally trot out the same gag multiple times. An Italian spy played by Peter Serafinowicz constantly makes sexual passes at McCarthy’s character, as well as any other female in view, and this is overplayed. It’s fine to make a joke of sexual harassment, especially since the filmmakers are clearly on McCarthy’s side, but it ought to have been done with a little more creativity. In that respect there is a missed opportunity in Spy. This filmmakers aspire to the classic James Bond movies but they also show an awareness of the sexism of those films. The ground work is set for Spy to do something more with it but the moviemakers never go beyond the obvious.
Bottom Line: Spy is a very satisfying action comedy. The film gives the audiences a lot of the action-adventure fun they expect from a straightforward spy movie and it’s one of the funniest comedies to come along in a while.
Episode: #546 (June 14, 2015)