Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, Bobby Cannavale, Morena Baccarin and Jude Law
Plot: When a dangerous arms dealer (Byrne) gets intel on the CIA’s active agents, a secretary, Susan Cooper (McCarthy) volunteer to go into the field.
Spy sells itself short. It is easy to walk past in a local HMV. Yet another spy parody, following the lines of similar efforts like Johnny English, Austin Powers or Get Smart. The comedy genre has had varying degrees of success, but the end result is that these days, us critics feel like we have seen it all before. James Bond movies that refuse to take themselves seriously. The only difference here is the casting of a female lead in Melissa McCarthy’s hero, a comedian actress that is bound to rub most of the potential audience up the wrong way. We know her from Bridesmaids and The Heat, her one gimmick being a loud-mouthed, domineering stereotype. We thought we had seen it all, lumping Spy into one whole load of unoriginality. However, like any good spy film, there is a hidden twist. It is actually quite good.
Mainly the success of Spy comes down to Paul Feig remembering the golden rule of making an action movie parody. It seems like such a simple thing to include, yet the majority of the sub-genre seems to forget. Spy joins a select few decent action comedies (Beverly Hills Cops, Hot Fuzz), that treat their movie like an action first and foremost, and come in with the jokes second. Beverly Hills Cops is essentially an everyday cop movie with Eddie Murphy coming in with the wise-cracks later on in the day. Spy employs the same tactic. The action feels genuine, so when Melissa takes on a knife-wielding hit woman in a kitchen, the stakes are just as high as they would be in a Die Hard movie. Jude Law cuts through enemies with some fight choreography that you wished the later Taken films had employed. No, it is never going to be up there with an actual action movie, but it meets us halfway and that makes all the difference. Hell, Beverly Hills Cops doesn’t boast too much in terms of action sequences itself. The plot in Spy is a little clichéd, with a vague group of villains all fighting over a nuclear device and its final act twist very guessable, but it services the narrative well enough. You will spend the first hour of Spy loving it for the laugh-out-loud comedy, but by the end of its running time, you will be hooked on the actual story, wondering which characters are going to live and which ones are going to die. It gives the movie a lasting effect and also means that the jokes never feel forced. In fact, the two genres actually compliment each other quite well. When a joke does come along, it isn’t as expected, so the laugh sneaks up on you. Melissa McCarthy is locked in an intense battle with a plane control, trying to pull up before the aircraft crashes on the mountains below, while in the background, Rose Byrne gets felt up by a dead body in the turbulence.
Melissa McCarthy is surprisingly the one character who is the most far removed from the comedy of the film. She is the one sane woman trapped in the madness of the story. Miranda Hart plays Miranda Hart (stick to what you know, after all), Jude Law plays the bumbling spy and Jason Statham… well, it’s probably best to see for yourself. You won’t be disappointed. Melissa McCarthy takes minimal self-depreciative jokes, most of them being used up in the trailer. Once those have been established, the actress is allowed to develop her character. She is a surprisingly competent action heroin, her actual prowess when it comes to the action, being played both for laughs and complimenting the action side of things. Paul Feig never feels tempted to play the idiot card, recognising that she must be fairly talented at her job for the plot to logically put her in the position she finds herself in. The smaller beats show her working out the mystery at hand and it accentuates the idea that Spy isn’t going to fall back on the logical jokes. Maybe, there is still this sense that we have seen this kind of movie before, but Feig writes it miles better than meagre attempts such as Johnny English and for that reason, it is worth book-marking for a viewing in the near future.
Final Verdict: Spy acts as a sleeper hit, never relying too heavily on the comedy or the fact its lead is often used in a far more obvious role.
I was on the fence about this one but it you are pretty convincing. I’m picky about comedies but I think this one will be good. Thanks!
Hmmmm, everything about this movie looked like something I did not want to see. You have me re-evaluating that statement.
Nice work Luke, don’t mind a send up to spy movies every once in a while.
Feig has been on a roll as of late and it’s nice to see him making something work with, yet again, another spy flick from this year. Nice review Luke.