By Matthew McKibben | June 5, 2015
Director: Paul Feig
Writer: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Peter Serafinowicz
Although I loathe the expression “behind every great man, there’s a great woman,” I do like that Paul Feig’s Spy takes that saying and gives it a spy movie twist. What if the only reason James Bond preternaturally knows what’s behind every corner is because he has a MI6 analyst in his ear directing him when and where to shoot?
Melissa McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, the uber nice to the point of pushover CIA analyst for Jude Law’s Bradley Fine, kind of a retro-James Bond type always ready with a quippy one-liner for the ladies. Bradley has the veneer of amazingness, but there’s not much working upstairs. Susan’s the opposite. By all outward appearances, she’s forgettable, but these missions would be disasters without her hard work and calm demeanor. It’s pretty clear that he’d be pretty lost without Susan in his ear piece telling him when, where, and who to shoot.
After a mission goes awry and Bradley’s fate is in doubt, the CIA needs to find someone who knows who the bad guys are but is bland enough to blend in with the European scenery. This is just the opportunity Susan needs and she’s off trekking the globe on her first big CIA mission, disguised in the best “cat lady” disguise the CIA could find. There’s a funny bit where McCarthy visits a Bond style Quartermaster. While all these amazing tools and gadgets explode stuff behind them, the Quartermaster gives her random everyday things a traveling tourist might need; fungal powder that blows up, hemorrhoid wipes that can kill people, etc.
The plot to Spy really is that simple and it follows a conventional spy narrative throughout the entirety of the movie. The strength of Spy comes down to the complete flexibility director/writer Paul Feig and his band of actors have to make this movie as funny as possible. It’s hard to categorize this comedy because it throws in every single kind of comedy one could imagine into a two-hour movie. It has a touch of Zucker Bros. Airplane! style randomness, gross out/shock humor, spy parody like Austin Powers, and, of course, a touch of Bridesmaids (also directed by Feig and co-starring McCarthy). The plot is thin, but the movie is rescued by the sheer amount of hilarious stuff. Nothing is above or below this cast and crew. If it gets a laugh, it gets in the movie.
McCarthy was on Howard Stern recently and mentioned Chris Farley as one of her biggest comedic heroes. You can really see the similarities here. One could easily see Spy with Chris Farley in the lead. Yes, they both share similar physiques and utilize those physiques in hilarious ways, but both also were at their best when they used their size and physicality as a springboard for both the plot and their eventual transformation as characters. McCarthy is entirely believable as the almost invisible CIA analyst, but then completely uses the frustration she was feeling at not being seen as a source of motivation when she’s needed to do incredible things out in the field. I’ve always been lukewarm with McCarthy, but this movie completely sold me on her skills as a comedic actress.
The supporting cast is all stellar, especially Rose Byrne as the overly harsh and icy Bond-style villainess. Sometimes these movies have characters who say so much ridiculous stuff that they kind of lose me, but nearly every thing Byrne says is comedic gold. Miranda Hart as Susan’s friend and fellow CIA analyst and Peter Serafinowicz as her Italian (or is he?) CIA liaison also give good performances, but there were times I felt as if their lines were trying too hard to standout, instead of fitting into the comedic tone set by the leads. It took a while for me to buy Jason Statham as a bumbling idiot CIA operative, but he really goes for it. I hope he tries more comedy, because he seems to have a knack for it.
Feig is a great director of comedies, but he really impressed me with all of the action choreography in this. There’s some great set pieces in this, both comedic and not, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his upcoming Ghostbusters reboot.
While the movie is laugh out loud funny throughout the entirety of the movie, I’m leery to call it a classic. My favorite comedies are ones that play the plot a little more straightforward. You need a little drama to carry the movie when the humor of the jokes fade over time. Spy doesn’t have the emotional tug or gravity of something like Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The tone of this is more like a lovechild of Anchorman and Feig’s Bridesmaids. But on a purely comedic level, this is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in quite some time.