Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale
Directed by: Paul Feig
Sigh, another year, another Melissa McCarthy comedy. I can't be the only one getting tired of her foul-mouthed, fat chick schtick can I? Don't twist my words, I think she is a funny comedian and does have acting chops. Last year's St. Vincent was a good example of her being a normal person, and I'm also not saying that being fat or skinny makes you a better or worse actress or comedian, but when most of McCarthy's R-rated comedies have basis in her being short, fat, unattractive, and uncoordinated, it gets a little redundant.
Spy is no different but it reunites McCarthy with her Scorsese, Paul Feig who launched her to stardom with her supporting Bridesmaids role. After last year's insufferable Tammy, it's nice to know she is back with a director who knows how to make the best of her, but Spy is just exactly what you'd expect and is more or less similar to the last Feig-McCarthy collaboration, 2013's The Heat, but at least in Bridesmaids and The Heat she could play off a lonely, selfish character but this time in Spy, she is front and center.
McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a basement-dwelling CIA analyst who spends her days guiding suave, superspy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) through an earpiece, watching his every move, leading him down each corner, and keeping him out of danger. She is constantly overshadowed, unappreciated, and overlooked especially by Fine who cherishes her when she's watching out for his every step but treats her like some sort of neighborhood Cat lady instead of a female counterpart. When Fine accidentally kills a man who only knows the location of a nuclear weapon, the only choice is to go after his femme fatale daughter Raina (Rose Byrne), who disappointedly goes from sexy villianess to a simpleminded, Real Housewife bitch character. The new problem the CIA has is that Raina knows the identities of all the CIA agents so to get Raina and the bomb, they need to send in a fresh face, enter Susan Cooper to take over the mission much to dismay of Rick Ford (Jason Statham), a CIA superspy who is a mix of Ron Burgundy chauvinistic and the overconfidence of Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock's characters in the Other Guys.
The biggest strength and biggest weakness of the film is McCarthy's character Susan Cooper. It is refreshing to see a lead female character who is smart, strong, and not reliant on a male, but the problem is Cooper's character is flawless. McCarthy's character in The Heat worked because she was a loner hothead whose motives for justice was genuine but was a sympathetic character because she was an outcast to her colleagues and family, but was also motivated by her own extreme sense of justice. In Spy, Cooper is a good person, brilliant with tech, a quick-thinker, a caring person, and is actually a skilled fighter and operative, but she is just held back by her lack of confidence, and constant put-downs by other people. If Cooper's character was smart, intellectual, and had low self-esteem, it would make sense and be satisfying for her character arc if she gained confidence by dressing more stylishing, and becoming a skilled field agent and would make for a solid payoff for her character but the fact that she is great at everything just held back by her weight and confidence, there is no doubt that Susan will save the day. There is a point midway through the film where Cooper's character unexpectedly gains a sense of confidence and starts to shoot down every asshole who talks back to her, and essentially from that point on, McCarthy pretty much has nowhere else to go as a character. It would have been annoying and a bit degrading if McCarthy's Cooper was used as a fat, idiotic character like her character Tammy just played for laughs, but it would have been rewarding to see her turn into a superspy instead of already being an amazing agent who just hasn't been able to show off yet. What's even more annoying is that there is a recurring joke where Cooper's character gets new identities she is always a middle-aged, divorcee or cat lady.
The best play on a typical character and the best aspect of Spy is Jason Statham's Rick Ford, who is a typical Statham badass but based in reality and isn't as suave and amazing as he thinks he is. Statham needs to return to comedy more often because he excels at making use of a dry British wit. Statham's comedic ability lies in his deadpan, all-in delivery (ex. Crank 1 and 2) and his scenes are some of the funniest of the film. One scene where he threatens McCarthy's Cooper is a highlight where he goes threw a list of his CIA accomplishments including impersonating Barack Obama and reattaching his own arm. I would have personally loved a movie of just Statham and Jude Law subverting the spy genre. There are other comedic supporting roles that are over the top but didn't really work for me and felt annoying and tacked on to the already bloated runtime including Miranda Hart as a fellow CIA agent/best friend of Cooper and Peter Serafinowicz as a french agent who uses every opportunity to make a move on Cooper in increasingly eye-rolling and perverted ways that wears out its welcome about the fifth time it happens. Another wasted character is the great Bobby Cannavale as a underutilized villain.
It doesn't mean the movie isn't without it's fun. After a pretty laughless and odd first act, and once the film starts it's globetrotting adventure there is some fun and laughs to be had. My audience constantly laughed and applauded through the entire film while I felt like I only chuckled a few times, the movie is enjoyable and has it's fun share of car chases, shootouts, fist fights, and twists. A one on one kitchen fight late in the film is particularly memorable. The film also follows the trend of R-rated action comedies and Paul Feig's previous The Heat is that sometimes the violence is jarring and off-putting in how unexpectedly gory some kills are for a comedy.
Spy will undoubtedly be a box office hit and enjoyable time at the movies for anyone looking for an action-comedy fix with an especially entertaining against type performance from Statham, I just wish that McCarthy could play something different than the same-old, incompetent, foul-mouthed woman she has grown accustomed to playing. The original title for this film was the much better Susan Cooper instead of the insanely generic and broad "Spy." Much like the characters in the film, they didn't have faith in Susan Cooper either, and I don't like people have much faith in McCarthy without her being a fat, bumbling idiot. Comedians have made whole careers playing characters like that, but McCarthy has potential to be better, I just wish director Paul Feig expanded that potential of making Susan Cooper an empowering female action star instead of playing it safe with McCarthy's fat, klutzy, F-bomb dropping schtick.
RATING: 5 out of 10