The phrase “summer blockbuster” sends a cold spear of terror down my spine. In the land of wild hype, it is a moniker that all too often bestows the kiss of death to a movie. At the risk of adding gasoline to an already out of control conflagration – SPY is precisely that: A summer of 2015 blockbuster. Third in the series of director Paul Feig-Melissa McCarthy couplings, after BRIDESMAIDS and THE HEAT, I had great trepidation heading into the film as I feel that I feel McCarthy has not lived up to her comedic genius of BRIDESMAIDS in her last several projects. I’m throwing down a gauntlet here and saying that her role in SPY is, to date, the role best suited to her singular mix of smart, rapid fire wordplay and physical comedy. And to call Feig’s writing and direction ‘funny’ is a gross understatement.
There have been many good espionage spoofs among my favorites are 1967’s CASINO ROYALE with the brilliant Peter Sellers, and JOHNNY ENGLISH (2003) a perfect showcase for Rowan Atkinson’s distinct brand of idiot-savant comedy. Like those films, SPY provides a perfect platform for McCarthy to shine and part of that sparkle is created by her fantastically well cast and funny supporting actors. Melissa McCarthy is best when she is in contrast to those around her and she is an excellent ensemble player. As a CIA analyst who is the brains behind the beauty and brawn of operative Jude Law, McCarthy’s Susan Cooper combines a razor sharp intellect and strategic brilliance with a charming, nerdy loner quality. We do not however pity her. She is too smart and earnest for our sympathy. Instead we laugh with her, grateful that she has a good measure of self awareness . She is deeply in love with Bradley Fine, Law’s impeccable take on Bond…James Bond. He is the avatar in the field benefiting from Cooper’s genius at headquarters, and they do indeed make an unremitting team. When Fine is killed, and all other operatives are too recognizable, Cooper is sent into the field to observe, collect info and report only. If you assume things quickly move beyond mere observance you’re spot on.
Feig’s script could have easily rested upon cliches and sight gags, lazily focusing on the paradox of McCarthy’s physical humor in the role of a CIA operative. However, the script is intelligent and goes far beyond what is merely expected. Consequently it is absolutely hilarious. I laughed hard all the way through the movie, so hard in fact that I’m sure I missed some of the best lines laughing at what had come before. Jason Statham plays an operative who is so macho, so over-the-top invincible that he is a caricature of every single role Statham has ever played and he does it perfectly. His Rick Ford is the punching bag for all the operatives because he is all muscle and scant acumen. Inside his shiny heroic physique, is a complete bumbling screw-up. The role reversal dynamic between Statham and McCarthy is funny and endearing, just as the relationship between villainess Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne) and McCarthy’s Cooper replicates the horrific competition amongst high school girls. Visual details in the film abound and add to it’s already riotously funny script. Byrne’s hair for example is a character in and of itself, and an ongoing pest issue within the CIA headquarters is doled out in perfect subtle measure.
Honorable mention must go to Miranda Hart who plays McCarthy’s co-worker and friend Nancy, a sensible Brit who is truly an ‘every woman.’ Both Cooper and Nancy have hidden talents, and their skills and potential are no laughing matter. Feig’s script contains real life issues and problems. Issues around women in the workplace and the failure to recognize the critical contributions of ‘backstage’ workers over the pretty public faces of accomplishment. Rather than self-righteously shoving a lesson down your throat Feig wisely uses his comedic genius to dance it in front of your face with two all too normal female characters who, in the end, are so powerful and loveable you want to watch them all over again. SPY is not devoid of McCarthy’s hallmark belligerent raving nasty gal from THE HEAT, but thankfully that persona is onscreen only briefly. Along with magnificent foreign locations, great spy accessories, good camera work and stunts, SPY is all around a very good film, but more importantly it is a joyful return to what Melissa McCarthy is capable of and it is one hell of a good time. Don’t miss SPY…that’s right…Summer Blockbuster!(4 / 5)
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale
Running time: 120 minutes
Spy Movie Review