by David Robinson, movie reviewer
Now available on DVD, “Spy” is a comic sendup of, well, spy movies, and one with some almost perfect, straight-faced spoofs of the genre. The clearest referent is Bond, James Bond, from the opening credits and music, to the nifty weaponry, through the tuxedo-clad casino crowds and the car chases through foreign city streets, right up to the payoff where the hero saves New York City from nuclear destruction. (If I missed checking off any of the definitive elements, the movie likely doesn’t.)
Writer/director Paul Feig, best known for “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” has created another vehicle for his plus size star in those films, Melissa McCarthy. She carries this one most of the way, being particularly effective in the early going. Her character, 40-something CIA agent Susan Cooper, is confined to the bat and mice-filled basement of The Company and glued to a computer screen. She remotely monitors the actions of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law), the Bond stand-in here. Susan has an unrequited crush on the handsome Fine: in one wonderfully awkward dinner scene, Law and McCarthy establish the lopsided relationship and play the laugh lines superbly.
So when she watches him get murdered later, she vows to take vengeance on the gorgeous killer, one Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne), a Bulgarian femme fatale whose father has created a suitcase sized nuclear device which she is putting up for sale to some even badder guys. Susan gets the OK from her tightly wound boss (Allison Janney), beating out veteran agent Rick Ford, played way over the top by Jason Statham, parodying the action roles he usually occupies as Ford goes rogue and even further out of control. His boasting scenes with McCarthy are hilarious.
Susan gets the nod over Rick because, hey, who would ever guess that she’s a spook? Her field kit comprises sneaky weapons disguised as a rape whistle, deadly hemorrhoid wipes, and anti-poison pills in a stool softener bottle. One of her several aliases is as a former Mary Kaye rep. Though Susan was a star of her CIA training class, her ten years behind a desk have dulled her edge: after her first (inadvertent) kill, she vomits on the corpse and faints. You get the idea, and McCarthy (an excellent physical comic) and Feig squeeze all the yuks out of it they can. The star even throws in a little Mae West imitation for good measure.
Trouble is, the unforced hilarity dies out about two-thirds of the way through the movie, buried in a cluster of no longer surprising F-bombs and some action scenes which try too hard to be funny — the kiss of death for comedy. (Note: the Bond and “Mission Impossible” franchises and their ilk generally eschew profanity, though it would certainly fit the characters and situations.) The wit and invention disappear until the closing credits, which reward close attention, as does one hilarious ad-libbed outtake at the very end.
“Spy” is rated “R” for violence, profanity, and sexual suggestiveness, including a gratuitous penis shot. The easily offended might want to find another comedy, although this one is currently left its competitors gasping in its profitable wake. Building on her previous roles, it will further establish McCarthy as a”bankable” property, one who can bring out the best in her supporting cast and pack the cineplex. With any luck, the folks who send scripts to her will figure out they don’t have to work too hard to shock us. She’s plenty good enough without the overkill.