Spy (2015)

06/08/2015  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

There’s no question that Paul Feig and Melissa McCarthy are two genuinely funny filmmakers, but as a team they just haven’t found a groove that completely works yet. Bridesmaids and The Heat are funny in fits and starts, but they’re so beholden to the cast’s improv-heavy style that they don’t exactly hold together as full features. Spy is hands-down their best yet, though, as Feig and McCarthy finally manage to rein in their more obnoxious tendencies and mold them into something that’s often downright hilarious. There are some truly great jokes in this film, even if the story surrounding them still only barely makes sense.

The film opens with a Bond-esque action sequence in which dashing CIA superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) tracks down a suitcase nuke at a fancy party. Meanwhile, Fine’s operator Susan (McCarthy) feeds him intel, direction and casual flirting through an earpiece back at headquarters. When Fine’s mission takes a turn for the worse, CIA director Crocker (Allison Janney) sees no choice but to put Susan in the field to recover the nuke. The logic is that since arms dealer Rayna (Rose Byrne) claims to know the identities of every agent in the field, an unknown like Susan might catch her unaware. None of this sits well with hyper-aggressive agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham), who hates the idea so much that he quits the CIA just so he can take on the case himself. Amazingly, that’s not a setup for a double-cross.

Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law in Spy

Two spies poking each other in the face is code for something, I’ll bet.

With only the thinnest sketch of a spy movie plot in place, Spy has its fun coloring in the myriad details in between all the save-the-world nonsense. The film gets an incredible amount of mileage out of the “middle-aged office drone becomes a world-class spy” gimmick, as the agency takes every opportunity it can to put Susan down, just to make her build herself back up. From her endlessly demeaning secret identities to an array of gadgets cleverly disguised as laxatives and hemorrhoid wipes, everything about Susan’s spy gig is designed to make her second guess her line of work. It actually becomes endearing to see her tangle with armed thugs and smack-talk with the best of them. For as heavy as the action gets at times, the best stunt in the entire movie is seeing McCarthy go toe-to-toe in a shouting match with Jason Statham.

In fact, I’m afraid to single anyone out as the film’s MVP, because damn near everybody brings their A-game. That said, Statham shows up ready to fight in his very first scene and practically walks off with the entire film without throwing a single punch. Ford spends most of his screen-time explaining to Susan (or just whoever’s in the room) how much of a badass he is. His tales of derring-do get so outlandish that I’m pretty sure he eventually just starts describing the plot of Crank 2. Statham plays Ford as the grandest buffoon in a film full of buffoons, and it’s kind of incredible.

Melissa McCarthy and Nargis Fakhri in Spy

Never bring a knife to a boiling soup fight.

Spy also proves just how good of a team Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Paul Feig are together. Compare this film to McCarthy’s awful 2014 summer jam, Tammy, and the difference is staggering. It helps that Feig has a particular vision for his dumb spy comedy. After establishing that Susan is secretly an expert martial artist (which is kind of inexplicable, but then that’s the joke), Feig makes good on that by putting McCarthy in the middle of some meticulously choreographed fistfights. One scene in particular finds Susan in a knife fight set in a restaurant kitchen. Feig isn’t shy about the fact that he cribbed most of this fight from the Jackie Chan playbook, where any and everything becomes a weapon. That he pulls it off with such clarity and energy, and that McCarthy apparently did a lot of her own stunts, is damned impressive.

All told, Spy is a welcome distraction from some of this summer’s more self-serious blockbusters (looking at you, San Andreas). Feig’s films tend to be overlong, and at two hours this one’s no different, but the comedy works so well here that it’s easy to forgive. Personally, I’m relieved that Spy is as good as it is. Sometimes I feel like I ask too much from my dumb comedies, but it’s heartening to see Feig and McCarthy finally step up and deliver. It’s a sign of filmmakers learning from their mistakes and working hard to offer something better. That’s really all we ask for, isn’t it?

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About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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