Writer / director Paul Feig’s third collaboration with Melissa McCarthy is a spoof on the male-centric spy genre, though in truth it only ever manages to fix its sights firmly on the James Bond films, mimicking the work of John Barry, the use of gadgets and the glitzy locations while incorporating its own versions of the helicopter, plane and motorbike stunts that have become de rigeur for 007. McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound operative locked away in the basement of the CIA’s facility in Langley, Virginia, where she is an aide to Jude Law’s suave agent as he shoots, fights and gambles his way around the world. When he comes unstuck and other agents are compromised as a result, Cooper volunteers to go into the field and continue her colleague’s work, despite the fact she has forgotten much of her training. Rather than picking a new identity of her own, however, she is given some unflattering alter egos by Alison Janney’s CIA chief, the running joke being that they get progressively more dowdy as Cooper’s own ability at espionage increases.
Feig’s targets are all quite obvious, and when the spoofing starts to get boring (and it does, pretty quickly) his answer is to have his star pretend to be a badass bodyguard for twenty minutes so that she can lay the improv on thick and turn the air blue (which, though crude, actually results in an upturn in laughs). As widely reported elsewhere there’s also an amusing supporting turn by Jason Statham, who sends up his own macho on-screen persona by playing a tough, sexist CIA agent who is prone to braggadocio but actually quite inept, and he gets many of Spy‘s best lines: one minute gruffly asserting that he re-attached his own arm to his body when it was torn off, the next claiming that he saw the love of his life thrown from one plane only to be hit by another plane in mid-air.
This kind of spy-themed silliness has been done before, of course, and there’s little (nothing?) here that compares favourably with the mocking detail and sparkle of, say, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, Top Secret! or even 1964’s Carry On Spying. There are substantial supporting roles for two British comedians, Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowcz, and while the former delivers a rough approximation of her popular, scatty TV character Miranda the latter has the thankless task of playing up to the stereotype that Italian men are leery womanisers who can’t drive (the hilarious twist being … wait for it … he’s actually BRITISH and is just pretending to be Italian!) McCarthy definitely has bags of energy and confidence, and is willing to send herself up, but the inevitable fat jokes that are either her own or Feig’s are tired and lazy, this is twenty or thirty minutes too long and it’s not a patch on the earlier collaboration Bridesmaids. Still, it’s all subjective, and I appear to be in the minority with this one: Spy has delighted many and has proven to be a big box office hit. Wow.
Directed by: Paul Feig.
Written by: Paul Feig.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jude Law, Alison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Serafinowicz.
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman.
Editing: Dean Zimmerman, Don Zimmerman.
Music: Theodore Shapiro.
Running Time: 119 minutes.