In the last few years, we’ve received dozens of female led comedies. Chief among them Bridesmaids, the Kristen Wiig starring comedy that demolished the box office and created a movement of movies made for women, by women, for the most part. Returning with another film, the director of Bridesmaids, Paul Feig reunites with his muse, Melissa McCarthy (also from Bridesmaids and Feig’s follow-up The Heat) for a send up of the male heavy spy genre. For fans of McCarthy, you will not be disappointed. This is a fun, energetic movie with emphasis on the fun, unfortunately it also suffers from a fair amount of flaws.
McCarthy plays C.I.A. analyst Susan Cooper. The movie opens with her desk bound as she navigates Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through a mission before a hilarious mishap occurs which I won’t spoil. A scene later, Fine is murdered by the chief antagonist, Rayna Boyanov (another sad performance by Rose Byrne). This sets the movie in action towards the basic premise of sending Cooper, the seemingly unfit for duty agent into the field for a ride that involves sleazy informants, exotic locales, various action scenes throughout the exotic locales, and what might be a career best performance from Jason Statham.
I will say that I haven’t been the biggest supporter of McCarthy throughout the new wave of comedy that she has sprung to life. Bridesmaids seemed like a one hit wonder with how entertaining the script was, mixed with the chemistry of its ensemble and confident direction from Feig. The Heat didn’t have me too enthused, despite a stand-out Sandra Bullock. I can’t say I’ve seen Tammy or Identity Thief, but critical and audience reception didn’t seem to change my mind in that matter. I can safely say after Spy, McCarthy is definitely not a caricature of herself and she is definitely able to act with the right material, and for the most part, it seems that she was given free reign to make a three dimensional character.
Spy renders a brilliant character out of McCarthy with a deft appreciation for the Spy genre without completely abandoning the idea of it. What lacked in her previous films was a lack of depth to her characters. What her films gained in the idea of a female lead, they lost in the lack of her character being well written. With McCarthy finally given the lead role without sharing it with another co-star, she gets the chance to create someone that is well worth rooting for, while giving her just as many great lines attuned to her previous films without getting into a one note joke. McCarthy really is the star of the show and despite a jarring shift of character in the middle of the film, she deserves more like it.
Feig’s direction, as always, is adequate. Aside from The Heat, Feig has never really had the chance to direct any action set pieces and that stays the same throughout the course of this film. His action direction is just as questionable as the editing. A weakness of modern comedies is the loose editing to let the actors improvisation show through the film and instead of creating a tightly edited comedy under two hours, it unravels into a movie that can go a little over two hours or in the case of Spy, exactly the two hour mark. While this may suit a film that is packed with intense action and over the top comedy, it only has one of the two and starts to slow down about a two-thirds of the way through the movie.
What really works is the rest of the brilliant cast. Jude Law works his charm in his brief role filling out the caricature of a handsome and suave spy. Peter Serafinowicz plays the best sleazeball I’ve seen in a long time despite another terrible accent in a movie that’s sadly full of them. But Jason Statham, damn. What’s perhaps the best on-going joke of the whole movie, casting Statham as the most inept spy of them all is what really grabbed me. You’d think it would get old, but after the third time of Statham screwing up plans of McCarthy’s character, I was still laughing. I’d almost say the movie is worth seeing for his acting alone.
As much as I may be praising Spy, I found myself having little fun by the time it ended. Half of the jokes fall flat and certain characters just don’t work (I’m looking at you, Bobby Cannavale. You can do better than that.) I found myself laughing less and less, and as many strengths there are, there’s equal weaknesses. I’m interested to see what a second viewing would do but I’m not sure it would change my opinion. If McCarthy’s films have been your thing, Spy will be one of the best comedies you’ve seen in a long time, and arguably her strongest. But, I found myself a little bored in the end. And for once after watching one of her films, I’m actually sad to say that.