Spy: Spoof Thriller Starring Melissa McCarthy

spy_posterThe third collaboration between rapidly rising star Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig, simply called Spy, is an extremely broad comedy in terms of story and jokes, but it provides yet another opportunity for McCarthy to demonstrate her charismatic appeal and (not to underestimate) her box-office bankability.

In their first two films together, McCarthy was either a member of a large ensemble (Bridesmaids) or co-star (with Sandra Bullock in the police comedy The Heat).  In contrast, the globe-trotting action comedy Spy was clearly designed as a star vehicle, with McCarthy dominating the overtly calculated feminist tale, relegating the men (Jude Law and Jason Statham) to secondary parts for a change.

spy_9_mccarthy_lawAs a spoof of its genre, Spy is only mildly successful, generating smiles rather than big hearty laughs, but it’s joyous, well-intentioned, and enjoyable, at least for the duration of time it lasts.

The opening sequence obviously pays homage to a slick James Bond movie, with tracking shots across a lake to a mansion.  It’s planned as a teaser, preparing the setting for the anticipated appearance of its leading lady, who is absent.

spy_8_mccarthyMcCarthy plays CIA agent Susan Cooper who, despite a decade or so of experience (mostly behind a computer), is still positioned at the bottom of the sharply stratified espionage hierarchical structure.  When first seen, Cooper is in a shabby basement, infested with bats and mice,  surrounded by high-tech surveillance gear, talking to another agent far far away.

Despite nimble physical presence, Cooper has been nearly invisible.  Her guidance to a Bond-like agent named Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is sort of appreciated, and he reciprocates with half-hearted gratitude and flirtatious promise for a date.  However, like the rest of the men in the Agency, Fine looks down on her.

spy_7_mccarthyThe operatives in the field are either incompetent and/or corrupt.  One arms dealer observes, “What is happening at the CIA? Do the drones have occupy all the good jobs now?”

Things begin to change when an assassin blows the cover, and the Agency needs a strong and reliable figure to track a nuclear device. Cooper lands the assignment, sporting the alias of a frumpy Iowa housewife, carrying in her purse an anti-fungal cream that doubles as mace and chloroformed hemorrhoid wipes.

spy_6_mccarthyOnce outdoors, in the field, Cooper takes charge and comes into her own. In the process, she goes head-to-head with villainess Rayna Boyanov (superbly played by Rose Byrne as an elegant femme fatale), while fighting off help from Jason Statham’s ally, a seemingly fierce Brit Agent Rick Ford, and fending off Peter Serafinowicz’s amorous CIA driver, who claims to like big-size women.

Essentially plotless, Spy is composed of standard-issue spy-movie elements and characters, often based on gender reversal.  Feig’s script is workable, but it may be too pleased with its own cheerfulness, paying no attention to any logic–even by movie terms.

spy_4_mccarthyDominating each and every scene she is in, McCarthy gets the opportunity to offer enough wisecracks to conceal the silly, absurdist narrative built (or rather constructed) for her.  She shows strength and vulnerability in equal measure and gets to engage in well orchestrated pratfalls.

Generous to a fault to its star, Spy is a sporadically clever and intermittently funny, if not really the hilarious or sexy comedy it must have aspired to be.