MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Spy’ Will Covertly Send You Into Uncontrollable Laughing Fits


Film: Spy
Directed by: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne

Director Paul Feig has been sneaking his way through genres with mixed results. Bridesmaids was a refreshing take on the female buddy comedy. The Heat produced a couple of laughs amidst a backdrop of a ’70s cop comedy. With Spy, Feig develops even more as a craftsman with one of the funniest spy spoofs in years. Melissa McCarthy is at the top of her game here, doling out one-liners at the same rate James Bond beds women. It’s the kind of comedy that doesn’t personify spy genre tropes. Instead, it riffs off of them and has the mind to know when to stop babbling on.

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a hapless CIA analyst who serves as the eyes and ears for agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) when he is in the field. The hours spent behind a computer make her pine for fieldwork. When Fine’s and the rest of the agents’ covers are blown, director Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney) is forced to send Cooper into the field. Her job: to track and report on Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a Bulgarian arms dealer with her hands on a nuclear warhead. Naturally, Cooper gets herself involved and everything doesn’t go according to plan. Chaos and bloodletting ensues, in the funniest way possible.

Spy is the type of film that knows exactly how to use the things it’s riffing off of. The prologue is a sustained sequence of espionage and smooth talking by way of Jude Law. There’s the chasing of information, the corny one-liners, and the evocation of smarm. After a quick spat of banter between Law’s Fine and his target, Fine sneezes and accidentally shoots his target in the head, with anterior posited blood cloud and all. That’s when things are passed onto the humorous side of things, hearing McCarthy squawk about how he just messed up through an earpiece. In other films, the tonal shift between serious genre-serving territory and satire can be extremely rough. Feig loads up on the jokes though, reminding you how greasy spy conversations can be when played boldfaced. Think about an Auric Goldfinger monologue interrupted by someone who doesn’t know how to shoot a gun. Even with the ensuing dramatic beats, Spy always has one or more jokes in the chamber to keep the playful atmosphere intact.

The most surprising thing Spy has to offer is the performances. McCarthy’s weight and physical figure do not play for laughs here. Even when a Pepé Le Pew-esque spy, Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), shows up and puts the moves on McCarthy’s Cooper, he never makes some sly joke about how her weight or figure turns him on. McCarthy’s comedic chops work physically, too. She actually gets to kick ass in Spy. Instead of being the bumbling but sweet agent, she actually gets many chances to put boots to faces. Again, her weight doesn’t get factored in here. Hallelujah!

Jason Statham is the real comedic MVP here with his role as special agent Rick Ford. The pride that Ford has as a special agent comes out in diatribes about the increasingly deadly things he has escaped or survived. We are never led to believe that this guy will one-up McCarthy though; he just gets more and more angry and stumbles more and more when he isn’t the one to save the day. Rose Byrne steals the show, too, once again. She was the funniest person in Neighbors and with this, she slaps on a corny accent and a stern façade. Of course, that rough exterior is broken down as holes upon holes are blown through her nefarious plan. British comedian Miranda Hart keeps the laughs consistent as Susan’s other hapless CIA friend, Nancy. Her brand of comedy is the great cross-section between deadpan and goofy.

As a 120-minute feature, Spy rarely suffers from dry spots. Even when the comedy slows down to let in some tender character moments, levity is always at the forefront. Feig’s aesthetic strengths seem molded to the genre here, always offering up some familiar camera move or flourish we have seen from the spy genre. There’s tons of action to display and Feig is no slouch. Even the slow motion sequences function primarily as jokes in themselves and land every single time.

Spy may get a tad rocky with how it puts so much stock into Cooper’s story over hijinks, but it’s somewhat proof that Feig may work fantastically behind the reins of the next Ghostbusters. And of course, McCarthy will probably be great, too.


Review written by: Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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