As announced yesterday, I'm dedicating this entire week to the ladies and posting only about movies with female leads. You can join me in what I'm dubbing The Girl Week Blogathon. This is my first entry.
Directed by Paul Feig.
2015. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Will Yun Lee
Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a CIA operative who has never been in the field. She works from behind a desk guiding Agent Fine (Law) through his missions. When he is fatally shot by the nefarious Rayna Boyanov (Byrne), Susan volunteers to go after her since Rayna seems to know the names of all of the CIA's field operatives. Her bestest work buddy Nancy (Hart) becomes her guide. Meanwhile, Susan keeps running into Agent Ford (Statham), an angry sort who decides to work the case on his own after being passed over for Cooper. Hilarity ensues.
Unlike with the last few Melissa McCarthy flicks, there is consistent hilarity. The films in which she has been the star tend to either start funny and fizzle out early (Identity Thief, Heat) or not be funny at all (Tammy). Spy manages to maintain a high level of humor throughout and backs it with fun action scenes. McCarthy's performance works well on both fronts of her comedy stylings with self-deprecating humor blending nicely with her trademark raging, foul-mouthed tirades. The 'woe is me' aspect of her persona is even more effective during a few heartfelt moments. She grounds the movie without dragging it down. It's her most fully realized performance and one that hints she might also excel in a dramatic role. Again, none of this is to take away from her raunchier side which is held in check for a good portion of the movie. When we finally get it, it doesn't just appear. It explodes all over the screen in such a good way. All of it meshes perfectly with the physical parts of her role. Here is where McCarthy ices the cake by being more than athletic enough to pull off what's asked of her in convincing fashion.
Spy is not a solo act, though. After a stellar turn in Neighbors, Rose Byrne again proves her comedic chops by giving us a fun, perfectly vapid villain. Her Rayna Boyanov plays as if Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian decided to start bumping off CIA ops and it works wonderfully. Allison Janney keeps the ball rolling as Cooper's boss while Miranda Hart does the same as Cooper's sidekick. In his brief time on screen, Jude Law gives us a terrific riff on James Bond. Jason Statham is the highlight of the supporting cast. He gives us a shameless blow-hard with a personality that would have been a perfect fit in some of his earlier British films. Meanwhile, every word out of his mouth is pure parody of his own action hero image. His back and forths with McCarthy provide a number of hilarious scenes as he just makes the most outlandish claims about his own invincibility. It's a great reminder that Statham is more than just a guy who is good at beating people up on camera.
On the downside, the story is rather generic, and thus, predictable. Almost nothing happens that we couldn't spot well ahead of time. The entire plot is very reminiscent of any number of spy flicks, just tweaked to fit these characters and a comedy motif. Another demerit is earned by the movie for failing to do the same thing other McCarthy movies either fail to do or approach tepidly. Our heroine is without a proper love interest. Anything of a remotely sexual nature involving her is either played for laughs or to drum up sympathy for her. Most of the jokes involving this are funny and the pity-party stuff achieves the desired effect so it's not a major flaw in the movie. However, it does point at a problematic pattern in her filmography. Any man attracted to her is depicted as not quite right. In this case, it's Aldo (Serafinowicz), a relentless pervert who makes unwanted advances on every woman he comes across including constant attempts to grope McCarthy. There is also the way things play out with Law's character and something else that happens at the very end, The talents of the actors involved makes it palatable, but it still seems to suggest that a woman who does not fit the standard Hollywood image of beauty cannot have a normal relationship. It would be one thing if it were the way other characters treated her, but something happens to turn the tables. However, the movie itself seems to support the notion.
For the purpose of gauging how much I like or dislike Spy, the issues I laid out in the previous paragraph are minor. The fact of the matter is that the positives far outweigh the negatives in this case. As a raunchy R-rated comedy, it's funny throughout with a fairly steady stream of laugh-out-loud moments. As an action flick, it's exciting with plenty of adrenaline pumping scenes during which our heroine performs a number of amazing feats and has some great fight scenes. Both elements made the two hour runtime fly by, where that's normally far too long for a comedy. Of the films in which Melissa McCarthy is a headliner, this is by far my favorite.