Spy | Paul Feig | June 5, 2015
Going into Paul Feig’s latest film, Spy, I didn’t have the highest of hopes, just based on the state of spy comedies and the few trailers and TV spots I had seen. To say the least, my expectations were low, and thankfully so.
The action kicks off in the middle of a one-man mission to secure a nuclear device from a scientist, but before Bradley Fine (Jude Law), one of the CIA’s top agents, can get an answer from Tihomir Boyanov (Raad Rawi), a sneeze and jumpy trigger finger result in a fatal headshot, and Fine makes a run for it, supported from Langley by his analyst back-up Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy). Susan, we come to learn, isn’t happy 10 years into her CIA career, having given up teaching and done rather well at the academy, but she’s stuck on desk duty rather than out on missions. However, when Fine’s next mission to locate Boyanov’s daughter Rayna (Rose Byrne) goes FUBAR, Cooper offers her skills in the field, as Rayna knows the names and faces of the CIA’s active field agents. So Susan goes out into the field in painfully ordinary middle-aged disguises to track down Rayna, the nuke, and a black market middleman named De Luca (Bobby Cannavale) at the behest of Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney), one of the deputy directors, and she is constantly interrupted by macho braggart ex-agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham).
From the outset, I was under the impression that Cooper would be more of the bumbling agent, like a Clouseau, Powers, or Smart/Gadget, thanks (or no thanks) to the marketing and unflattering posters of McCarthy in disguise. Once she proves herself as capable, both behind a computer and in the field, that impression melted away. Sure, some skills were a little rusty, but she totally holds her own in the film’s several fight sequences. That’s just one of the delights of the film. UK comedians Peter Serafinowicz and Miranda Hart each get some time in the spotlight: Hart as Susan’s coworker and confidante Nancy, and Serafinowicz as a sex-obsessed objectifying Italian asset. Statham’s over-the-top antics are golden, and Janney’s snark is perfect. And a surprise Michael McDonald (a.k.a. Stuart from MadTV) cameo as Patrick, the gadget man, certainly doesn’t hurt – along with an odd appearance from 50 Cent as himself.
However, there are a few detractors. Much like the spy genre the film pays homage to (even with the title sequence and the international locales), there’s a loose end or two that isn’t quite tied up, but bygones are bygones. Additionally, there are the frequent put-downs about Susan’s appearance, but that also plays into both the CIA and Rayna underestimating her abilities as a spy rather than her looks.
While Spy lives in the “realistic” world of grounded CIA spy films and the more serious Bond over the campy Bond, it still feels fresh, thanks to the number of capable and fiery women in charge, both at Langley and in the field.