Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, 50 Cent, Will Yun Lee, Morena Baccarin
Runtime: 2 hrs
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language and Some Nudity)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 21 May 2015
Synopsis: Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy), a shy deskbound CIA analyst, goes on a mission to help a field agent in trouble. Employing outrageous identities and fancy spy gadgets, she attempts to infiltrate the shadowy world of an alluring but dangerous weapons dealer. She leaves a trail of mayhem crisscrossing Europe, utilizing deception and false bravado to try and outwit her quarry and locate a stolen nuke.
Move over, James Bond. The coolest spy in town is the CIA’s Susan Cooper, a rotound desk agent who looks and walks like Melissa McCarthy that is given her first field assignment to stop a Bulgarian arms dealer Rayna (Rose Bryne) from selling a rogue nuclear weapon to the highest bidding terrorist. While her textbook-suave male counterparts get to don tuxedos and hide behind cool aliases, Susan gets assigned to be a divorced mother-of-three from Iowa or a single woman living with ten cats in her apartment. Instead of flame-throwers and jet-packs, Susan’s purse is filled with items disguised as stool softeners, toe-fungus spray and haemorrhoid wipes. Clearly, she isn’t who you would normally associate with spy material, but hey that’s precisely why writer-director Paul Feig’s send-up of the genre is so, so funny.
The official synopsis will let you know that Susan is called upon to assist the Agency when her assigned field agent, Bradley Fine (Jude Law), is killed in the call of duty by Rayna, the latter also threatening to know (and therefore kill) every single active field agent of the Agency has. So, from her vermin-infested basement where she acts as the eyes and ears for Bradley, Susan volunteers her anonymous self for a “track and report only” mission in Paris, where Rayna is supposed to meet with a notorious middleman named DeLuca (Bobby Cannavale). Needless to say, the enthusiastic former desk jockey steps out of the mission parameters very quickly, and throws herself right into the thick of the action, globetrotting across Europe to Rome and finally to Budapest in order to track down the missing nuke.
As far as spoofs go, ‘Spy’ is surprisingly well-plotted. Instead of a catfight between McCarthy and Bryne, Feig has them form somewhat of an unlikely friendship somewhere during the middle act, as McCarthy pretends to be a bodyguard hired by Bryne’s father to protect the latter. Watching Bryne’s snobbish, judgmental Reyna trade verbal barbs at McCarthy’s in-your-face, expletive-hurling Susan is a hoot, and their chemistry is even more delightful than discovering that Susan has an “inner rage” that makes her one hell of a mean fighter in the first place. Ditto it is to find out that Statham isn’t just rehashing his action hero persona from the countless B-grade movies he’s been of late, but instead sending it up by constantly exaggerating the things he has had to endure in the line of duty (like having to cut one arm off and sew it back with the other).
From its James Bond-style title sequence, there is no doubt that Feig has his tongue firmly in his cheek. And yet unlike other send-ups, Feig plays his with a thoroughly straight face, and comes off all the better for it. At no point does it come off looking silly (just look at ‘Austin Powers’ as a counter-factual); quite the opposite, you might even be inclined at several points to call it brilliant, which only goes to show just how deftly Feig has managed the fine balance between farce and genius. Like his past two female-centric comedies, that genius lies also in Feig’s gleeful lack of regard for political correctness, so those who cannot stand the pottiness of ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘The Heat’ should know that this is likely to offend your delicate sensibilities as well.
Yet if there’s something these previous Feig-McCarthy collaborations have shown, it is that theirs is truly an inspired comedic pairing. It was Feig who first introduced us to McCarthy’s foul-mouthed attitude in ‘Bridesmaids’, but as ‘Identity Thief’ and ‘Tammy’ showed, her trademark shtick can get tiresome and ingratiating very quickly without the right finesse. Feig knows exactly how far and when to push the right buttons, so that McCarthy’s outward bravado never gets on your nerves. More than in her previous roles, there is palpable sense of insecurity to McCarthy’s fish-out-of-water character here, and the highly gifted comedic actress delivers her most heartfelt performance portraying Susan’s anxieties as she realises how way out of her league she is.
In place of the ensemble in ‘Bridesmaids’ or the complement that Sandra Bullock was in ‘The Heat’, Feig surrounds McCarthy with a colourful cast of supporting characters. Statham and Law have a whale of a time with their winking performances, the former as a tough-talker and the latter as a debonair spy who isn’t so perfect (heck, he accidentally kills the one man with the information he needs when he squeezes the trigger while sneezing). Bryne is gloriously bitchy, and like we said earlier, her scenes with McCarthy snap, crackle and pop. Other no less entertaining additions include Miranda Hart, who plays McCarthy’s colleague down in the basement that harbours similar dreams of being out there in the action (her ideal codename being Amber Valentine no less), as well as British actor Peter Serafinowicz, who plays an amorous local CIA handler enlisted to help McCarthy while she is in Rome. Feig juggles all these distinct characters beautifully, while never ever forgetting that this is McCarthy’s show through and through.
If you’re looking to be tickled silly, we guarantee that ‘Spy’ will leave you in stitches, but the real ingenuity in this espionage spoof is how it is never in itself silly. Indeed, its humour lies not in putting down its characters or by extension its actors, but rather by subverting our stereotypes of just who and how certain people are supposed to be. It is precisely because we do not expect someone of McCarthy’s calibre to be a secret agent that we laugh at how wrong we were – and yes, contrary to what you may expect, McCarthy does get to kick ass, a lot of them. The same goes for each one of her other co-stars, whose characters are deliberately meant to be counter-intuitive. But hey, one can say precisely the same about ‘Spy’, which easily surpasses what Feig and McCarthy have done before. It is funny as hell all right, and it even has a genuinely exciting spy story in itself.
(Even funnier than 'Bridesmaids', Melissa McCarthy reteams with writer-director Paul Feig for a riotous send-up of every cliche and stereotype you've had of the spy movie genre)