Scott F. Evans
The new Melissa McCarthy vehicle Spy is being sold as another film designed around the lead’s specific shtick: Physical humor punctuated with harsh language. The marketing is accurate. The movie definitely features those elements. However, Spy also manages to be a seriously funny send up of the spy genre as well as a sly critique of sexism.
Written and directed by Paul Feig, Spy is two hours long but it doesn’t feel like it. Feig know exactly the type of film he’s making so he keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the energy never diminishes. The script certainly helps. It’s packed with verbal and visual gags and while a few miss, most of them hit their mark. Spy works best when it’s examining gender politics but it never gets bogged down by that agenda. It’s smart enough to keep it light and covertly slide the message through. It’s just raunchy and broad enough to appeal to the LCD crowd looking for some cheap laughs while also appealing to a more thoughtful viewer who might see beyond the surface. Spy is a straight up comedy, not an action film with comic elements. That said, there are some shockingly well-choreographed fight scenes that rival anything seen in other recent action films.
McCarthy plays our lead, Susan Cooper. She’s the unassuming operational support and all around Girl Friday to field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). One of the things that work so well in Spy is that Feig allows McCarthy to actually be a competent agent and not an obese clown. Sure there are weight related sight gags, but her character is also really good at her job. McCarthy is excellent in the role. She nails not just the verbal components of the character but the physical as well. Throughout the course of the film, Cooper goes from assistant to field agent so the role requires she be demure, boisterous, vulnerable and cunning. McCarthy handles the changes with ease, never going too far in one direction. We’re invested in her journey but McCarthy and Feig never create false sympathy for Cooper. She’s able and committed, but hamstrung by gender politics and preconception based on physical appearance. Cooper never wallows in the misery of her situation. And she never delivers a ham-fisted monologue about how she’s as good as anyone else. Instead she shows us, using ambition and a particular set of skills.
McCarthy is given a solid supporting cast to play off of. Law plays Fine as an obvious early era 007 knockoff. Slick, smug, and sexist but he stops just short of being completely unlikable. Jason Statham is rival spy Rick Ford, playing the character as an analogue to the more modern interpretation of a secret agent. Crude, uncontrollable, and sexist, Statham hilariously takes Ford way over the top. You don’t like him, but his rugged charm and light buffoonery win you over. Rose Byrne is solid as the villainous Rayna Boyanov. She’s not much of a threat, but Byrne plays her with just the right amount of malicious yet impotent entitlement that she ends up being extremely fun to watch.